NOAA weather data
NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Frances off the coast of Florida. Credit: NOAA

WASHINGTON – A defense authorization bill the House Armed Services Committee released April 25 would  authorize $3 million for the U.S. Air Force to determine if commercial weather data could help meet a wide range of Defense Department weather requirements.

The House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) included a provision in the  National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 calling for a one-year pilot program for the Defense Department to purchase some sample weather data from emerging commercial providers.  When the year’s up,  the Defense Secretary would be required to report to Congress on commercial data’s utility and cost.

The full committee is scheduled to take of the defense authorization bill April 27.

In recent years. a number of startup companies, including PlanetiQ, GeoMetWatch and Spire, have developed plans to provide weather data to commercial and government customers, but the bill’s language pushes the Pentagon to move faster in finding ways to put the data to use and develop a pilot program. Congress last year added $3 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget for a similar program. NOAA requested an additional $5 million for 2017 and released a timeline earlier this month for buying some GPS radio occultation data from commercial providers.

The Air Force, meanwhile,  is already in the early stages of learning how commercial weather data could meet Pentagon needs.

Col. Mike Guetlein, head of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s remote sensing directorate, said in an April 15 interview with SpaceNews that the Air Force received 15 responses from industry following a request for information last December.

That request asked industry to describe its “long-term interest in providing weather data as a commercial service, utilizing currently available or projected on-orbit weather capabilities.”

In recent weeks, the Air Force has been evaluating exactly what kinds of weather data are or will soon be available, the business model for supplying the data and how “resilient” these commercial and international sources would be in the face of an attack or other event.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.