Senate Appropriators “Extremely Disappointed” With NOAA’s Execution of STM Pilot Program

Senate Appropriators “Extremely Disappointed” With NOAA’s Execution of STM Pilot Program

The Senate Appropriations Committee rebuked the NOAA division that oversees the Office of Space Commerce for not following through on direction to create a Space Traffic Management (STM) pilot program. In its report on the just-released FY2022 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, the committee recommended the office be moved under the direct supervision of the head of NOAA and its budget doubled. Advocates want it moved even further up the chain of command to the Office of the Secretary of Commerce, but Congress has not been willing to go that far.

The Trump Administration designated the Department of Commerce (DOC) to be responsible for civil Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Traffic Management (STM) in Space Policy Directive-3.  Currently the Department of Defense (DOD) tracks space objects and warns satellite operators of potential collisions, but wants a civil agency to take over interfacing with non-military users so it can focus on its own requirements.

Then-Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was extremely enthusiastic about growing DOC’s role in space and the goal was to use the small Office of Space Commerce (OSC) as the nucleus of a Bureau of Space Commerce reporting to him.

OSC originally was part of the Office of the Secretary of Commerce, but over the decades was moved down the hierarchy into NOAA, one of DOC’s units, and under the management of its National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) division.

Congress has not passed authorizing legislation formally assigning civil SSA/STM to DOC. Action so far has taken place through appropriations bills. House and Senate appropriators were skeptical for several years, but following a report from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) last year, increased funding for OSC, but kept it as part of NESDIS.

Since the change in administrations, OSC’s efforts to create an Open Architecture Data Repository (OADR) melding data from DOD and commercial sources on the locations of the thousands of satellites and pieces of debris in Earth orbit appear to have stalled.

Last year’s CJS bill directed “NESDIS and OSC to initiate a space traffic management (STM) pilot program, in collaboration with industry, the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, and other Federal partners, as appropriate, to develop STM technical prototypes, initiate an open architecture data repository, and perform STM demonstrations and experiments.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee is not happy with how that effort is going, saying it is “extremely disappointment with NESDIS’s execution” of the program.

The language falls short of moving OSC to the Secretary’s office, but does recommend that it get out of NESDIS and report directly to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, who is also the Administrator of NOAA.  Rick Spinrad currently holds that position.

The committee also would double the budget for OSC from its current $10 million to $20 million.

The House Appropriations Committee approved just the requested funding level of $10 million, the same as FY2021, and simply directed OSC to proceed with the pilot program. The House began consideration of the CJS bill in July, but did not complete it.

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