WASHINGTON — Four federal agencies have signed an agreement intended to improve cooperation on space weather research and translating that research into operations.

Representatives of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation and the U.S. Air Force signed a memorandum of agreement at the White House Dec. 7 outlining how they will work together on space weather research and operations.

The goal of the agreement is to improve coordination on transitioning space weather research into operational forecasts as well as providing feedback from those operational applications into research. That is collectively known as research-to-operations-to-research, or R2O2R.

The agreement, agencies said, will allow NASA, NOAA, NSF and the Air Force to better coordinate R2O2R activities, such as moving space weather models and forecasts developed by researchers to operations and coordinating feedback from users of those models and forecasts.

“We have a shared goal and that is to enhance our nation’s space weather preparedness,” Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service within NOAA, in a statement. “That can only happen through better coordination and expanding on existing efforts to improve space weather observations, research and modeling.”

The agreement builds upon a document released by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in March 2022 that established an R2O2R framework to coordinate advancing research efforts at those agencies into space weather operations and giving requirements from operational uses of space weather products to researchers. That document specifically called for the four agencies to develop a new agreement to collaborate on those activities.

A report earlier this year by the Space Weather Advisory Group specifically called on NOAA to improve its R2O2R activities. It noted there had been “substantial progress” in implementing that framework but said NOAA could do more to address challenges like creating “operations-ready” research data and improving the maturity of models.

Space weather is taking on increasing prominence at NOAA. In a presentation at the fall meeting of the National Academies’ Committee on Earth Sciences and Applications from Space Nov. 29, Steve Volz, director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, described how the agency was establishing a space weather office to coordinate those activities.

That includes flying the Compact Coronagraph space weather instrument on the GOES-U weather satellite, scheduled for launch next April, and the Space Weather Follow-On (SWFO) mission, slated to launch in early 2025 to operate at the sun-Earth L-1 Lagrange point.

He said at the meeting that NOAA is starting planning for two successors to SWFO, currently known as L-1 A and B, that would launch in 2029 and 2032. Having two spacecraft, he said, is essential to ensure no gap in service should one satellite malfunction, a concern given the current reliance on spacecraft that have far exceeded their design life.

“We want to get from a one-failure to a two-failures-to-a-gap situation for space weather, which we have never had,” he said, “so we would have an operational and a spare mission at L-1 for the critical solar measurements.”

“We want to get to a resilient posture, and that’s going to take another 10 years to get there,” he acknowledged, “but that’s the plan we have in place.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...