Stopgap Funding Bill Keeps DSCOVR, Jason-3 at NOAA

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WASHINGTON — The passage of a short-term funding bill Sept. 18 has spared NASA from having to foot the bill for finishing a pair of climate satellites that are currently part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget.

The Senate Appropriations Committee in June approved a 2015 spending bill that would have required NOAA to transfer “development and cost responsibility” for the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) space weather satellite and the Jason-3 ocean-altimetry satellite to NASA, which already manages acquisition of NOAA’s fleet of weather satellites. House appropriators, however, included no such language in their version of the bill.

Congress, meanwhile, gave up over the summer on passing standalone spending bills elections in November, opting instead to keep the federal government funded at current levels through Dec. 11 under a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution, or CR. The CR, which cleared the House Sept. 17 and the Senate Sept. 18, is silent on DSCOVR and Jason-3.

And that suits NASA and NOAA just fine, according to a senior NOAA official.

“Neither NOAA nor NASA really want to do that transfer,” Thomas Burns, deputy assistant administrator for systems in NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Systems division, said Sept. 17 at a meeting in Washington of the National Research Council’s Committee on Earth Science Applications from Space.

With both satellites slated to launch in early 2015, a transfer “would really be kind of a mess to manage,” Burns said. “I don’t know what kind of politics are going on there.”

DSCOVR is scheduled to launch in January. Jason-3 is slated to launch in March. Both satellites will launch aboard Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rockets.

Asked Sept. 18 whether NASA agreed with Burns, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.