Congress Approves Boost for Office of Space Commerce, Funding for Weather Satellites

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Congress approved a budget boost for the Office of Space Commerce (OSC) as it gears up to oversee civilian space traffic management (STM) and space situational awareness (SSA).

Congress provided OSC with $10 million and approved its plan with the merge with the Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 approved on Monday. The amount is $5.9 million above the total the two offices received fiscal year 2020.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had wanted to elevate OSC into a bureau that would report directly to him. However, Congress elected to keep the office within the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS).

“Within the funding provided, the agreement directs NESDIS and OSC to initiate a space traffic management (STM) pilot program, in collaboration with industry, the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, and other Federal partners, as appropriate, to develop STM technical prototypes, initiate an open architecture data repository, and perform STM demonstrations and experiments,” according to a report that accompanied the spending bill.

STM and SSA has become increasingly important as the number of satellites and amount of debris have grown sharply in Earth orbit.

President Donald Trump assigned the role of overseeing STM and SSA to the Department of Commerce in Space Policy Directive-3, which he signed in 2018. The Defense Department now handles these duties.

Congress later commissioned an independent review by the National Academy of Public Administration that concluded that OSC would be the best government body to hand civilian STM and SSA.

Congress provided NESDIS with almost all of the $1.235 billion the service requested for the acquisition of weather satellites and related programs.

National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) Systems Acquisitions
(in thousands of dollars)

ProgramFY 2021FY 2020
Geostationary Systems – R Satellites$334,500$304,056
Polar Weather Satellites$657,835$745,000
Cooperative Data and Rescue Services$14,400$11,350
Space Weather Follow On Satellite$108,115$64,000
COSMIC 2/GNSS RO Satellites$5,892$5,892
Satellite Command and Data Acquisition Facility$2,450$2,450
Geostationary Earth Orbit$10,0000
Systems/Services Architecture and Engineering$38,500$33,990
Satellite Ground Services$39,287$55,707
Projects, Planning, and Analysis$15,945$31,000
TOTAL:$1,226,924$1,253,445

The $1.226 billion appropriated was only $8.37 million below the amount request. Legislators cut a requested increase for systems/services architecture and engineering by $10.8 million. They also rejected the request to zero out funding for the satellite command and data acquisition facility.

Congress also provided NESDIS with $291.5 million for operations, research and facilities.

National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) Operations, Research and Facilities
(in thousands of dollars)

ProgramAmount
Environmental Satellite Observing Systems
Office of Satellite and Product Operations$189,099
Product Development, Readiness and Application28,434
Office of Space Commerce10,000
U.S. Group on Earth Observation500
Environmental Satellite Observing Systems (Subtotal)228,033
National Centers for Environmental Information63,500
TOTAL$291,533

The total was $21.5 million above the nearly $270 million requested. The difference results from the Office of Space Commerce being kept within NESDIS. Congress also provided $11 million more than requested for the National Centers for Environmental Information.