Omnibus Fully Funds Major NOAA Satellite Programs

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WASHINGTON — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s flagship weather satellites programs would be funded at or near the White House’s requested levels under the 2016 omnibus spending bill unveiled early Dec. 16.

If the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (H.R. 2029) is signed as expected, NOAA will get $809 million for the first two Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites and $871.8 million for the Geostationary Environmental Operational Satellite (GOES)-R satellite program, the first satellite of which is slated to launch in October 2016.

Resolving a lingering question from the summer, NOAA will also get $370 million — $10 million less than requested — for a new budget line called Polar Follow On to begin construction on the final two JPSS satellites in 2016.

Earlier this year, NOAA awarded Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, a $470 million contract to build JPSS-2 along with the two Polar Follow On satellites, dubbed JPSS-3 and JPSS-4. But the original House version of the spending bill provided no funding for the Polar Follow On program, while the Senate bill provided less than half the requested amount.

The omnibus spending bill, while funding the Polar Follow On, denied NOAA’s proposal to build a gap-filling miniature polar orbiter that would launch in 2019 to provide redundancy for the main JPSS satellites with an experimental microwave sensor. The gap filler is not part of Orbital ATK’s contract.

Overall, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 gives NOAA about $5.7 billion for 2016, more than $100 million above the agency’s request.

The bill also requires NOAA to submit progress reports on the JPSS and GOES programs to Congress along with its annual budget submission, which the White House is nominally required to deliver to the Hill by February each year.

Other NOAA satellite appropriations included in the omnibus spending bill are:

  • $7.5 million for Jason-3, a U.S.-French ocean altimetry satellite to be launched Jan. 17.
  • Roughly the $10 million requested for COSMIC-2, a U.S.-Taiwanese constellation of small satellites that monitor weather conditions using a technique called GPS radio occultation.
  • $1.2 million, less than half of what the White House requested, for Space Weather Follow-on, a next-generation space weather satellite to succeed the Deep Space Climate Observatory that launched this year.
  • $3 million for Commercial Weather Data Pilot, a new program sought by House lawmakers, including commercial weather buff Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who want NOAA to start figuring out how it can plug data from planned constellations of commercial weather satellites into national forecasting models.
  • $500,000, as requested, for Solar Irradiance, Data and Rescue, a budget line to find a home for various climate, search-and-rescue and marine fauna-tracking instruments orphaned when the White House canceled a joint civil-military weather satellite program in 2010.