Earth. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

The nominee to be the next U.S. commerce secretary has said he would protect the work of climate scientists at NOAA.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said at a Senate Commerce Committee meeting prior to voting in favor of the nomination of Wilbur Ross that he had won a written commitment from Ross to support climate research at NOAA, which falls under the Commerce Department.

Nelson said that Ross has assured him he will “continue to research, monitor, and report climate information to the public.”

The committee voted to support the nomination, sending it to the full Senate for final confirmation. [Mashable]

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A NASA official said Tuesday that the new administration has made no changes to the agency’s research and communications plans. Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, said at a town hall meeting at the AMS conference that he is continuing to carry out existing programs, and has not been directed to make any changes. His comments come after reports of grant programs being frozen or restrictions on public communications at other agencies, including the EPA and the Department of Agriculture. Freilich, at the town hall meeting, urged scientists in attendance to discuss their research, and its broader relevance, with the public. [SpaceNews]

A bill to support space weather research and mitigation studies advanced in the Senate Tuesday. The Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act during a markup session Tuesday. The bill is similar to one introduced last year and also approved by the committee, but which failed to further advance. The bill would codify some provisions of a space weather action plan released by the Obama administration in 2015. At a session during the AMS conference, officials from several agencies said they are continuing to implement than plan despite the presidential transition, and were optimistic Congress will pass the new bill. [SpaceNews]

The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is an advocate for simplified satellite regulation. President Trump announced Jan. 23 he was appointing Ajit Pai, a current FCC commissioner, as its new chairman, replacing Tom Wheeler. Pai, an FCC commissioner since 2012, has supported regulatory changes such as eliminating the requirement for interim milestones for new satellite licenses. The satellite industry had a more contentious relationship with Wheeler, who told the industry last year to support sharing of Ka-band spectrum with terrestrial wireless systems, a move the industry has strongly opposed. [SpaceNews]

A Russian source said Tuesday that a swap of Soyuz spacecraft for an upcoming mission is because of a technical problem with the spacecraft. The Soyuz spacecraft planned for a March launch to the ISS will be replaced by the spacecraft built for the following mission because of a leak detected in the spacecraft’s descent module, according to that source. Roscosmos said earlier this month the Soyuz spacecraft would be swapped, but said it was not due to technical reasons. [TASS]

The field for the Google Lunar X Prize has been formally narrowed to five teams. The X Prize Foundation said Tuesday that it verified launch contracts or agreements for Moon Express, SpaceIL, Synergy Moon, Team Hakuto and TeamIndus. Those teams have until the end of this year to launch their lunar lander missions in a bid to win the $20 million grand prize. A sixth team, PT Scientists, had announced a launch contract in November but the foundation said it could not confirm that the contract would allow for a launch by the end of the year. All 16 teams will evenly split a $1 million “diversity prize” to acknowledge their educational outreach work. [SpaceNews]

The Trump administration’s nominee for Air Force secretary is a supporter of operationally responsive space. The White House announced Monday it was nominating former Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican and former Air Force officer, to be the next Air Force secretary. While in the House, she backed efforts to establish the Operationally Responsive Space Office at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. She also successfully fought to split the positions of undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office. [SpaceNews]

A Soyuz rocket is on the pad in French Guiana for the launch of a commercial communications satellite this week. The Soyuz is scheduled to launch the Hispasat 36W-1 satellite Friday evening. The launch will be the firstgeostationary satellite launch of a Soyuz from the French Guiana pad, which previously has been used for launching satellites into low and medium Earth orbit. [Spaceflight Now]

Satellite tracking company exactEarth reported poor earnings after a government contract was renewed at a sharply lower level. The company reported a 30 percent drop in earnings, to $14.2 million, for 2016, which it blamed in large part on a decision by the Canadian government to renew a contract for ship-tracking Automatic Identification System (AIS) services for a much lower amount. ExactEarth is expects the government to compete a second contract for AIS services this year. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX founder Elon Musk is publicly endorsing the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State. Musk tweeted Tuesday that he backed Tillerson because he believed that he could be “one of the most competent members” of the cabinet. Tillerson was the chief executive of oil company ExxonMobil, while Musk is the CEO of electric car company Tesla. [USA Today]

Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan was honored at a memorial service Tuesdayin Houston. Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, the final Apollo lunar landing mission in 1972, passed away last week at the age of 82. Cernan was remembered as an “excellent aviator and outstanding astronaut,” in the words of fellow Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell. [collectSPACE]

Hidden Figures, the movie about African American women at NASA in the early space age, is an Academy Award nominee for best picture. Actress Octavia Spencer received a best supporting actress nomination for her role as programmer Dorothy Vaughan, and the movie also won a nomination for best adapted screenplay. The science-fiction film Arrival, about first contact with extraterrestrials, also received a best picture nomination. The winners will be announced Feb. 26. []

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...