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NOAA takes stock of spectrum amid ongoing challenges

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produces monthly climate data records based on information drawn from microwave sensors that are particularly vulnerable to RF interference. Credit: NOAA

DENVER – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking stock of its dependence on specific bands of the radio frequency spectrum and looking for ways to mitigate the impact of interference or government sales.

Michael Morgan, Commerce Department assistant secretary for environmental observation and prediction, leads NOAA’s effort to determine the agency’s spectrum requirements.

Once that survey is completed, NOAA will be in a better position to communicate with other government agencies the consequences of any decision to sell spectrum, said Steve Volz, NOAA Satellite and Information Service assistant administrator, said Jan. 11 at the American Meteorological Society meeting here.

“It is an ongoing challenge,” Volz said. “We expect to have to fight for maintenance of spectrum. But at the same time, we realize we’re not going to win every fight.”

As a result, NOAA is looking for ways to mitigate the impact of interference or sales on key areas of the agency’s RF spectrum. NOAA is looking, for example, at ways to make satellite sensors more resilient to the loss of particular spectral bands.

NOAA is interested in working with companies to conduct pilot projects related to RF interference, “especially in the 1675 bandwidth area,” said Kathyrn Shonz, acting director of NOAA’s Office of Satellite Ground Systems.

At the same time, NOAA officials are meeting with their counterparts in the Defense Department and National Telecommunications and Information Administration to consider various ways to disseminate data other than direct broadcasting from meteorological satellites.

“There’s a lot of discussion about direct broadcast,” Shonz said. “Should we be sharing the data via the internet as a primary mechanism?”

Spectrum concerns came up frequently at the AMS annual meeting. Meteorologists, still stinging from their losing battle to stop the Federal Communications Commission from auctioning off spectrum during the Trump Administration, anticipate many more competing claims for spectrum.

“I always get a little a little nervous when the S word is brought up,” said Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, Office of Science Technology Policy assistant director of space policy, said Jan. 9 during a Space Weather Town Hall.

In addition to growing demands for spectrum from terrestrial communications, satellite constellations are claiming spectrum.

“We were living in an unprecedented era where we are seeing a lot of applications for licenses to do a lot of things in space,” Uzo-Okoro said.

In spite of the dramatic increase in demand, “there are a lot of people working hard in the executive branch, legislative branch and across the federal government to ensure that the space weather and Earth observation communities have the protections of their spectrum for science exploration to continue,” Uzo-Okoro said.

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...