The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supplies products and data related to space weather including this 30-minute Aurora Forecast. Credit: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

SAN FRANCISCO – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded contracts to GeoOptics, PlanetIQ and Spire Global to provide space weather data as part of a pilot program to test the value of the commercial observations.

“The awards represent NOAA’s next step toward working with the commercial sector to obtain and analyze space weather data to meet its critical space weather forecasting mission,” according to NOAA’s July 14 news release.

Under the contracts, the three companies will provide NOAA with radio occultation datasets that reveal weather conditions in Earth’s ionosphere. NOAA’s goal is to determine the impact the commercial datasets would have on existing and anticipated future operational space weather models and applications.

Over approximately 12 months, NOAA will evaluate data supplied by GeoOptics, PlanetIQ and Spire. Then, NOAA may opt to purchase commercial space weather data to support operational forecasting.

NOAA began soliciting vendors in the first round of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot in 2016. The initial program focused on the value of radio occultation soundings, which reveal atmospheric temperature, pressure and moisture, in improving terrestrial weather forecasts.

Since 2020, NOAA has been purchasing radio occultation data to improve terrestrial weather forecasts from GeoOptics and Spire.

NOAA signaled its intention to begin evaluating space weather data with a request for proposals issued in May.

Congress prompted NOAA to establish a commercial space weather data pilot program in the PROSWIFT Act, space weather legislation enacted in 2020. (PROSWIFT stands for Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow.)

“GeoOptics is excited to be working with NOAA to show that we can continue to deliver the reliable and timely satellite space weather data the nation needs to protect our national infrastructure and support the most accurate space weather forecasts,” Conrad Lautenbacher, GeoOptics executive chairman, told SpaceNews by email.

Chuck Cash, Spire vice president of federal sales, said Spire, with a constellation of more than 100 multipurpose satellites, is the largest producer of radio occultation data, which he called “a powerful component of highly accurate, modern weather forecasting.”

“We’ve provided radio occultation data to NOAA for over three years and are thrilled to expand our relationship to provide data for space weather forecasting research, which will lead to safer and more efficient operations of planes and spacecraft,” Cash said by email.

PlanetIQ founder Chris McCormick said by email, “We are thrilled to be working with NOAA on this, and are anxious to see the impact of our new 4th generation GNSS-RO receiver has in an operational environment.”

This article was updated Thursday evening with comments from Spire and PlanetIQ. 

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...