NOAA, FAA AST Space Programs Get Funding Boosts

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last week, we took a look at the significant increase in NASA’s budget for FY 2019. In this story, we will examine the budget increases for the Commerce Department — which manages the nation’s weather satellites — and the Department of Transportation, which oversees commercial launches. We will also take a look how the White House’s National Space Council fared.

Commerce Department

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NOAA’s satellite programs received $1,45 billion, which is an increase of $55 million over FY 2018. The bulk of the funding is designated for the GOES-R,  Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Polar Follow-on (PFO) programs. The amounts include:

  • JPSS: $548 million
  • GOES-R: $408.4 million
  • PFO: $330 million

“NOAA’s proposal to combine the JPSS and PFO programs will continue to be considered, and NOAA is encouraged to provide the Committees, concurrent with the submission of its fiscal year 2020 budget request, a revised proposal that clearly identifies the cost and programmatic efficiencies that would be gained by combining these programs into one funding line,” House and Senate appropriators said in a joint explanatory statement.

The agency also received $27 million for the joint program Space Weather Follow-on with NASA . Appropriators provided NASA with $10 million for its part of the program.

“NOAA shall continue development and construction of two compact coronagraphs,” the statement said. “Further, NOAA shall begin preparations to integrate a compact coronagraph on Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U and coordinate with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to launch a compact coronagraph as a ride-share with the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Program mission to ensure continuation of Federal space weather sentinel and forecasting capabilities.”

Appropriators also provided $6 million to continue the Commercial Weather Data Pilot program. NOAA purchases radio occultation data from commercial satellite operators to improve forecasting under the initiative.

The Trump Administration’s effort to create a Bureau of Space Commerce by merging NOAA’s offices of Space Commerce and Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs remain stalled following the defeat of the Space Frontier Act in Congress in December. The bureau would focus on streamlining regulations and promoting commercial space activities.

Appropriators gave $1.8 million apiece to the offices for FY 2019 while a new plan for merging them is being worked out.

“The Department shall work with appropriations and authorizing committees on any future implementation of this legislative proposal,” appropriators said. “Until such time that a Bureau of Space Commerce is established in law, the agreement provides sufficient funds to support the Office of Space Commerce, within NOAA NESDIS, and directs the Department to fully utilize its current offices and authorities to encourage the commercial use of space.”

Department of Transportation

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) received a significant boost in its budget from $21.58 million to $24.95 million. The office is responsible for licensing commercial  launches, reentries and experimental vehicles.

Appropriators provided $9 million for a related program to integrate commercial space launches into the National Airspace System (NAS). The funding was $2 million above the amount requested.

The Commercial Space Safety program received $2.5 million, which is the exact amount requested. The money funds FAA AST’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and research and development into integrating launches into the NAS.

White House

Mike Pence

National Space Council (NSC)

The NSC, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, received $1.97 million for FY 2019. Under Executive Director Scott Pace, the council develops space policy recommendations and fosters closer cooperation across the government and private sector on space activities.

“The Council is reminded that, in recent years, poor workmanship, poor oversight, and poor performance (e.g., flawed welding techniques, component tube contamination, incorrect cleaning methods, using the wrong voltage in testing, unreliable launch vehicle bolt cutter assembly, mishandling of rocket stages during transport, and substandard strut components) have led to costly delays and even loss of mission. Overly ambitious technology development, optimistic scheduling, and poor cost estimation have become common,” appropriators wrote.

“No type of contract vehicle seems immune, whether traditional cost-plus contracts or firm, fixed-price contracts are used,” the explanatory statement continued. “These are inherent, systemic problems that cannot continue. National security, technology development, scientific discoveries, and improved weather forecasting are too important to the future of the Nation and require the Council to address these issues.”

Congress continued to limit the ability of the NSC, NASA and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to engage bilateral space activities with the government of China or any Chinese-owned companies. The restrictions prohibit joint programs and the hosting Chinese visitors at U.S. government facilities.

The restrictions can be lifted if NASA, NSC or OSTP can certify, after consultation with the FBI, that an activity will not: risk transferring technology, data or other information with national security or economic security implications to China; and not involve knowing interaction with officials who have had direct involvement in the violation of human rights.