NOAA is being pressed by a House committee on the space traffic management and commercial weather data

House Science Committee members urged the new administrator in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use commercial satellite data more effectively and take action on space traffic management.

U.S. representative Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), who is a ranking member of the full committee, challenged Richard Spinrad, NOAA Administrator, about the agency’s use of privately obtained data from satellites to assist in weather forecasting at a September 23 hearing of the committee’s environment subcommittee.

Lucas was “overjoyed” when NOAA made another acquisition of the commercial weather information in August, this time from Spire, for 3,000 radio occultation profiles every day for six months. “However, I’m afraid that we may be leaving good data on the table,” he added, citing the fact that companies that didn’t have satellites in the orbit when the program began are ineligible to compete until a fresh round of proposals is solicited in about a year.

Spinrad stated that, while he backed commercial weather data overall, there was a “cautionary note” regarding using it for weather forecasting, as he verified to the post in June. “We ought to make sure it satisfies the requirements that are in place and that it is also sustainable,” he explained. “In the worst-case situation, we wind up producing goods and services that are highly reliant on the availability of commercial data, which is then unavailable for a number of economic or corporate reasons.”

He claimed that NOAA’s efforts to review “the data quality, data accuracy, and the sustained supply of those data” for weather forecasting will take “a little bit of time,” but that they are in line with the laws that created the commercial weather data initiative at NOAA.

NOAA’s embrace of commercial weather data has been sluggish, but officials say they expect it to become more common in weather forecasting in the future. During a panel at Satellite 2021 conference, Stephen Volz, who serves as the acting assistant secretary in charge of the environmental observation and prediction at the NOAA Agency, said, “It did take a lot of back-and-forth discussion over a few years, but we now possess an operational commercial data acquisition program to offer radio occultation data to the NOAA Agency, and we anticipate that to be an important component of our information content for the future.”

For the time being, that data is confined to radio occultations of GPS as well as other satellite navigation signals, which offer profiles of the atmosphere. NOAA is still considering additional commercially available data, including microwave-sounding data, according to Volz. However, he, like Spinrad, believes that NOAA must consider data availability.

“We have to strike a balance between the availability of fresh data and the dependability and long-term viability of that source of data so that our clients aren’t surprised by performance upgrades or downgrades dependent on the supply of a specific data set,” he said.

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