Space Weather Follow-On Gets Slight Increase in House Appropriations CJS Bill

Space Weather Follow-On Gets Slight Increase in House Appropriations CJS Bill

The House Appropriations Committee is adding a little extra money for NOAA’s Space Weather Follow-on program in the FY2020 appropriations bill, $38.6 million compared to the $25.6 million requested.  NOAA’s other satellite programs generally are funded as requested, a total of $1.2 billion for procurement, acquisition and construction (PAC).  NOAA is transitioning into a new way of looking at its future satellite observing system architecture with an associated makeover of its budget accounts creating challenges in tracing the budget from year to year.

NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce and funded in the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, the same one that funds NASA.  The CJS subcommittee approved the bill last week and it will be taken up by the full committee tomorrow.  The committee released the draft text of the explanatory report that accompanies the bill today.

NOAA’s procurement of satellites is in the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) PAC account.  The committee singled out only three items in that part of the report.

The committee is adding $13 million for the Space Weather Follow-on, with the extra money designated for integrating a new space weather instrument onto the GOES-U weather satellite.

NOAA is responsible for operational space weather satellites that warn of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun and solar wind that can damage satellites and ground-based infrastructure like the electric grid.  ESA’s SOHO satellite at the Sun-Earth L1 (SEL-1) Lagrange  point is the primary spacecraft today outfitted with a coronagraph that blocks the light from the Sun, enabling it to image the Sun’s corona and detect CMEs.  Launched in 1995, SOHO is long past its design life.

NOAA is planning to replace that capability by adding a Compact Coronagraph (CCOR) to the last of the four GOES-R series geostationary weather satellites (GOES-R, GOES-S, GOES-T, and GOES-U).  GOES-U is scheduled for launch in 2024.  The extra $13 million in the House CJS bill would be used to integrate that CCOR onto GOES-U.   The final FY2019 appropriations act also directed NOAA to place a second CCOR on NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Program (IMAP) that will be placed at SEL-1.  That is not mentioned in today’s report.

The report notes the committee’s support for the Commercial Weather Data Pilot (CWDP) program and the Commercial Weather Data Purchase program.  CWDP used to be a separate line item in the NESDIS PAC account, but this year is merged into Systems Architecture and Engineering (SAE) as part of NOAA’s overall restructuring of its satellite PAC budget.  NOAA is proposing to cut that program from $6 million to $3 million, but includes $5 million for what is apparently a new Commercial Weather Data Purchase program.  The committee does not comment on the funding, only that it supports both programs.

Finally, the report requires NOAA to continue providing quarterly briefings to the committee “on all NOAA satellite programs” including “status of obligations for each program, including spacecraft, launch vehicle, sensor, integration, and ground components, and proposed changes to fly-out charts.”

It is difficult to trace NOAA’s budget from last year’s appropriations to this year’s request because it is restructuring the budget accounts to reflect the new NOAA Satellite Observing System Architecture (NSOSA).  NOAA now will focus on data requirements more than satellite systems, with the idea that there may be several ways to obtain the data — from international or commercial sources instead of NOAA’s own satellites.

Legacy programs like GOES and JPSS are still identified separately (although JPSS is merged with the Polar Follow On program into “Polar Weather Satellites”).  For the future, however,  NOAA is requesting money for capabilities in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) rather than specific programs.  Following is the table from the committee’s report specifying how much it is allocating to these various activities.

Source: House Appropriations Committee draft FY2020 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. p. 38

The only changes from the request are the additional Space Weather Follow-on funds, and an increase of $2.816 million for the GEO line (the request was $22.403 million). No explanation was offered for the latter plus-up.

Full committee markup begins at 10:30 am ET tomorrow and will be webcast.

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