GPS radio occultation
GPS radio occultation data, which can refine weather forecast models, is the subject of a second round of a NOAA commercial weather data pilot program. Credit: UCAR

SAN FRANCISCO – For the first time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is soliciting proposals for commercial radio occultation satellite data to feed operational weather forecast models.

After years of evaluating commercial data products, NOAA published a Request for Proposals Aug. 4 on the federal acquisition website Beta.Sam.Gov.

NOAA is inviting companies to submit proposals within the next 30 days to offer radio occultation data under two-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity orders. NOAA plans to purchase the data through one or more firm fixed-price contracts.

In June, NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service released a detailed report on its Commercial Weather Data Pilot that concluded “the commercial sector is capable of providing the quality of data needed to help support NOAA’s operational weather forecasting needs.”

During the Commercial Weather Data Pilot, NOAA obtained radio occultation data from Spire Global and GeoOptics. Instead of feeding the data into commercial weather data models, the agency conducted a retrospective analysis to evaluate their quality.

In addition to releasing the Request for Proposals, NOAA published specifications Aug. 4 for the first radio occultation data delivery order. That order calls for companies to deliver 500 daily radio occultation soundings for 30 consecutive days.

NOAA also asks companies to submit a price for a license to share data immediately with all U.S. government agencies, and for noncommercial use that precludes distribution beyond contractors and grantees. The license also would allow NOAA to distribute data to any entity 24 hours after receiving them.

NOAA has a target of acquiring 20,000 soundings per day, Steve Volz, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said at the American Meteorological Society’s conference in Boston in January.

A significant portion of the data is likely to come from the second U.S.-Taiwan Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC) constellation. Six COSMIC-2 satellites launched in 2019 are gathering more than 4,000 daily radio occultation soundings.

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...