Omnibus bill increases funding for NOAA weather satellite and space weather programs

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WASHINGTON — A final fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill released March 21 fully funds two key weather satellite programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration while increasing funding for future weather satellites and space weather efforts.

The bill provides full funding for NOAA’s two major weather satellite programs, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R (GOES-R) and Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). GOES-R receives $518.5 million and JPSS $775.8 million, the same amounts the administration requested in its original proposal last year.

The budget does include additional funding, though, for the Polar Follow-On program, which covers the third and fourth JPSS satellites. The administration sought $180 million for the program in 2018, citing plans to stretch out the schedules for those later satellites, but the bill provides $419 million.

NOAA, in its fiscal year 2019 budget request released Feb. 12, had already backed off from proposals for delaying those satellites, requesting $330 million for the Polar Follow-On program. The increase from the 2018 request “will enable NOAA to maintain the original Launch Readiness Dates for JPSS-3 and JPSS-4,” the agency’s budget proposal stated.

The budget also provides $8.5 million for the Space Weather Follow-On program, for which the administration sought just $500,000 in its original 2018 request. The report accompanying the omnibus bill also directed NOAA “to provide a full assessment of launch options for a coronagraph, and a plan to address non-coronagraph space weather requirements, within 180 days of enactment.”

As in the case with Polar Follow-On, NOAA was moving to build up the Space Weather Follow-On program, seeking $10 million for it in its 2019 budget request. The program, once envisioned as involving standalone satellites to provide space weather observations, is now examining development of an instrument known as a compact coronagraph in partnership with the Naval Research Lab that could be flown on a future GOES spacecraft.

The budget increases funding for NOAA’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot program, which funds the purchase and analysis of GPS radio occultation and other commercial satellite weather data sources. The bill provides $6 million for the program, compared to $5 million in 2017 and a request of $3 million in 2018.

Two smaller NOAA offices involved with commercial space activities received budget increases in the omnibus bill. The Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office received $1.8 million, up from $1.2 million in 2017. The Office of Space Commerce received $1.2 million, up from $800,000 in 2017.

The Department of Commerce has announced plans to combine CRSRA with the Office of Space Commerce. It plans to move the combined office out of NOAA and directly under the Secretary of Commerce.

In the Federal Aviation Administration, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which licenses commercial launches and spaceports, received $22.587 million, up from the requested $17.905 million and in line with earlier House and Senate appropriations bills. The bill includes $4.5 million for “commercial space integration” air traffic work and $1.872 million for commercial space in the FAA’s research account.

The omnibus bill also funds the National Space Council, which was not included in the administration’s original 2018 budget request because the president had yet to sign the executive order formally re-establishing it. The bill provides $1.965 million for the Council for 2018, and includes language allowing it to accept personnel detailed from other agencies without having to pay their salaries. The administration requested $2 million for the Council in its fiscal 2019 budget request.