Orbital ATK JPSS
Orbital ATK's version of the Joint Polar System Satellite spacecraft. Credit: Orbital ATK.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan coalition of Gulf Coast lawmakers has asked the House appropriations panel that funds U.S. weather satellite programs to reverse its decision to leave a next-generation polar weather satellite out of a 2016 spending bill the lower chamber approved in June.

In a letter dated Nov. 6 — but emailed to the press by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) Nov. 20 — eight Republicans and three Democrats asked the leadership of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee to fund the final three satellites in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) constellation. They also urged that the necessary funding be included in any further temporary spending bills Congress might pass when the current stopgap measure, which freezes funding at 2015 levels and prohibits new program starts, expires Dec. 12.

The group did not ask for a specific amount of funding. Final numbers would presumably be hashed out in the bicameral conference required to reconcile House and Senate spending priorities in a unified bill that would be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

NOAA’s JPSS series, in concert with international weather satellites, will provide global, round-the-clock weather coverage. The third and fourth satellites in the series, JPSS-3 and JPSS-4, along with a smaller, single-instrument satellite to back up the other two, were part of a $380 million proposed Polar Follow-on program included with the 2016 budget proposal the White House sent to Capitol Hill in February.

But in spending bills drafted this summer, House appropriators zeroed out the request while Senate appropriators cut it by more than half. JPSS-1, being built by Ball Aerospace, is set to launch by March 2017. JPSS-2, being built by Orbital ATK, is to launch by September 30, 2021.

Orbital ATK ‘s JPSS-2 contract includes options for JPSS-3 and JPSS-4, but a manufacturer for the backup satellite has not been selected.

The Gulf Coast representatives fretted that a lack of Polar Follow-on funding would prevent NOAA from buying JPSS instruments in bulk, thus driving up program costs and threatening to degrade weather coverage at a time when their districts have “seen a disproportionate amount of death and destruction from massive weather events.”

The lawmakers who signed the letter are:

  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.)
  • Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.)
  • Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.)
  • Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.)
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.)
  • Rep. Ron Desantis (R-Fla.)
  • Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.)
  • Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.)
  • Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.)
  • Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.)
  • Rep. Randy Weber (R-Tex.)

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.