Omnibus bill cuts funding for future weather satellites
WASHINGTON — Appropriators cut funding for a new generation of weather satellites while increasing funding for the Office of Space Commerce for fiscal year 2022.
The omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2022, passed by the House late March 9 and scheduled to be taken up by the Senate in the next few days, trimmed spending for development of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellites, from the requested level of $1.68 billion to $1.29 billion.
Most of that cut was absorbed by the Geostationary Extended Operations, or GeoXO, line of future weather satellites. NOAA requested $490 million for that program of geostationary weather satellites that will follow the current GOES-R series but received $150 million. The report stated that the GeoXO funding will support completion of Phase A studies of spacecraft and instruments for the system.
Other NOAA weather satellite programs received all or nearly all of their request. That included $17 million for commercial data purchases, with up to $5 million to be used for acquiring commercial space weather data.
The omnibus bill also provided $16 million for the Office of Space Commerce, located within NOAA. That office handles commercial remote sensing licensing and is responsible for taking over civil space traffic management.
The office received $10 million in fiscal year 2021, and NOAA’s 2022 budget request sought the same amount. The report accompanying the bill did not elaborate on the increase, but did direct it to “advance space traffic management and space situational awareness capabilities, in collaboration with industry and Federal partners.”
A key focus for the office is development of space situational awareness data system called the open architecture data repository (OADR). That system will combine space situational awareness data from government, commercial and international sources and provide a basic level of space traffic coordination services, such as conjunction warnings. NOAA unveiled a prototype of the OADR in February and plans to have the system operational in 2024.
The omnibus spending bill provided full funding for the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial space transportation activities. That included $32.47 million for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, $6.5 million for work on commercial space integration activities like the Space Data Integrator for air traffic management and $5.7 million for commercial space transportation safety work.
The funding for the office itself was an increase over the $27.56 million it received in 2021. The report accompanying the omnibus bill urged the FAA to hire more people for the office. The FAA’s 2022 budget proposal stated that part of the budget increase for the office would go toward hiring several more people.
The FAA will also have to hire a new head of the office. The agency said March 4 that Wayne Monteith, who has been associate administrator for commercial space transportation since early 2019, will retire at the end of March.
An FAA spokesman did not disclose plans for hiring a successor, but said on March 7 that the office would run on an acting basis by the current deputy associate administrator, Kelvin Coleman, after Monteith’s retirement. Coleman also ran the office on an acting basis after the retirement of Monteith’s predecessor, George Nield, in March 2018.