U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), above, is planning a broad space reform bill that would change how the Defense Department and NASA approach space acquisitions and operations. | Credit: Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce.

LONG BEACH, Calif. — A bill designed to strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather forecasting capabilities while laying the groundwork for integrating commercial satellite data into the mix passed in the U.S. House of Representatives April 1.

The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act (H.R. 2413), introduced in June by Republicans on the House Science environment subcommittee, directs NOAA to study the value of data products that commercial ventures are proposing to provide. It also removes what has been viewed as a legal obstacle to leveraging private sector capabilities for weather data collection by clarifying that a U.S. prohibition against privatizing taxpayer-funded weather satellites does not ban NOAA from buying commercial data, or placing government weather instruments on commercial or non-NOAA satellites.

“Our leadership has slipped in severe weather forecasting,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the full committee, said on the House floor ahead of the vote, according to an official transcription posted online. “European weather models routinely predict America’s weather better than we can. We need to make up for lost ground.”

When the bill was introduced last year by Rep. James Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Democrats objected to parts of the legislation that would have de-emphasized NOAA climate research in favor of a sharper focus on weather programs. Those provisions appear to have been excised from the latest version, which passed by a voice vote.

“I am pleased to join my colleagues on the other side of the aisle … in support of this bill,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), ranking Democrat on the environment subcommittee, said. “I can assure members on both sides of the aisle that weather research is strengthened in this bill but not at the expense of other important work at NOAA.”

The bill would also require NOAA to complete, by June 30, a study of how GPS radio occultation sensors and geostationary hyperspectral sounders — two weather observation instruments that have aroused private sector interest — might fit into the existing U.S. forecasting network.

The results of the study, known as an Observing System Simulation Experiment, would have to be released publicly.

“NOAA already purchases licensed ground-based data from the private sector, including such critical data as lightning strikes, so weather satellite data is a natural next step given, the setbacks in government systems and the natural evolution of the weather satellite infrastructure,” Anne Hale Miglarese, president and chief executive of PlanetiQ, wrote in an April 3 statement. PlanetiQ of Bethesda, Md., is planning a commercial satellite constellation to collect radio occultation data, which can be used to measure atmospheric humidity and temperature.

Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.