Failure of Aging Satellites Could Leave U.S. Partially Blind to Space Weather

Diagam of DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Tne failures of three aging satellites the United States relies upon to forecast space weather could leave the nation partially blind to electromagnetic storms that could severely disrupt electrical grids, communications systems, aviation and Global Positioning System (GPS) dependent navigation.

“The observations that we rely on to provide alerts and warnings are critical. Should we lose some of the key spacecraft that we talk about, I won’t say we’re blind but we’re darn close. It will impact our ability to support this nation’s need for space weather services. And I don’t want to see that happen,” said William Murtagh, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

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Experts Say Much More Required to Avoid Satellite Collisions, Space Debris

Space debris

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Senate and House committees held hearings on consecutive days last week about space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM), i.e., the ability to accurately track objects in Earth orbit and to avoid dangerous collisions that could knock out satellites and even render entire orbits unusable.

The overall conclusion was that, although progress is being made, we’re not nearly as aware as we need to be as orbital debris poses an ever bigger problem and companies prepare to launch tens of thousands of new satellites.

“Near Earth space is geo-politically contested, it’s commercially contested and it’s in dire need of environmental protection because it is a finite resource,” said Moriba Jah, an associate professor of astronautics at the University of Texas.

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Space Commerce Office Seeks Major Budget Increase

Wilbur Ross

The Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) is seeking a major boost in its budget from $2.3 million to $15 million for fiscal year 2021.

The office’s director, Kevin O’Connell, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that the bulk of the increase would go toward improving space situational awareness (SSA) so objects in Earth orbit can be accurately tracked and collisions that increase space debris can be avoided.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wants OSC to be elevated from an office within NOAA to a higher profile bureau that would be headed by an assistant secretary. The new bureau would be in charge of non-military SSA activities and a host of other activities.

Congress has not approved either the creation of the bureau nor giving the Commerce Department authority over SSA. Different bills are pending in the Senate and House that address Ross’ plan and which government agency will oversee SAA activities.

Congress is now considering the FY 2021 budget proposal, which the Trump Administration unveiled last Monday.

Commerce Department to Measure Value of U.S. Space Economy

WASHINGTON (Commerce Department PR) — The Space Economy Satellite Account (SESA) is a new, collaborative effort to measure the relative importance of the space sector on the U.S. economy, with a special emphasis on the growing commercial space segment. This new account is part of the economic satellite accounts produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). 

A satellite account refers to statistics that complement BEA’s official U.S. economic statistics, such as GDP and personal income. These satellite accounts provide additional detail and allow for a more in-depth analysis of key sectors of the U.S. economy, such as health care, travel and tourism, and outdoor recreation. 

Using input from industry experts and multiple government agencies, chiefly the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) Office of Space Commerce, the forthcoming SESA statistics will show the impact of the U.S. space economy on the overall U.S. economy.

Specifically, the SESA statistics will provide an estimate of the space economy’s contribution to current-dollar gross domestic product (GDP) and will illustrate the contributions of individual industries to the U.S. space economy.

In addition to GDP, the SESA will include gross output, compensation, and employment by industry statistics for the space economy.

More information can be found on the Bureau of Economic Analysis website

Johnson: Commerce Dept Not Cooperating with SharpieGate Investigation

President Donald Trump redraws Hurricane Dorian’s path after the fact.

WASHINGTON, DC (House Science Committee PR) – Today, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a follow up letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the Department’s involvement in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) actions surrounding claims that Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama. This letter follows up on the Chairwoman’s September 11 and October 10  requests for information.

“To date, we have received no responsive materials from the Department that would address the items in either of these letters, despite repeated follow-up phone calls and emails to the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs,” Chairwoman Johnson said in the letter. “The Department of Commerce’s communications with the public on weather forecasting is a critical government function that depends on the public trust in order to ensure the health and safety of all Americans. The Department’s refusals to give a public explanation for its actions in early September and to cooperate with Congressional oversight after the fact are harmful to our national weather enterprise.”

A full copy of the letter can be found here.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Signs Declaration of Intent with CNES

WASHINGTON (CNES PR) — On the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross signed a Declaration of Intent with Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) President Jean-Yves Le Gall. The Declaration charts a path forward for expanded cooperation between the Department and the French space agency on space situational awareness (SSA) and other important efforts driving the commercial development of space.

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House Science Committee Launches Investigation into Commerce Department’s Involvement in NOAA Actions Regarding Hurricane Dorian

Wilbur Ross

Washington, DC (House Science Committee PR) – Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross requesting information related to the Department’s involvement in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) actions surrounding claims that Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama, as well as requesting a briefing with Department of Commerce employees who may have been involved in any directives to NOAA related to the September 6 statement. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has full legislative and oversight jurisdiction over the National Weather Service, in addition to other portions of NOAA.  

 “As the operational face of weather forecasting in the United States, the NWS protects countless lives and property every year through its accurate and timely forecasts, watches, and warnings,” said the Committee Chairwomen Johnson and Sherrill. “We are committed to supporting the activities of the NWS and its dedicated staff. During your Senate confirmation hearing, you committed to allowing federal scientists to ‘be free to communicate data clearly and concisely’ and that you would ‘not interfere with the release of factual scientific data.’ However, actions by you that were described in the New York Times article would, if accurate, be inconsistent with the values of scientific integrity.”

Additionally, Chairwoman Johnson sent a letter yesterday to the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General Peggy Gustafson requesting a copy of the notification sent to NOAA staff of an investigation into the statement issued by the Agency on September 6, 2019. The Office of the Inspector General promptly provided a response to the Chairwoman’s inquiry.

A copy of the full letter to Secretary Ross can be found here.

A copy of the full letter to Inspector General Gustafson can be found here.

Report: NOAA Errors Led to Diminished Weather Satellites

GOES-17 satellite during processing by Astrotech. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NOAA’s poor management of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R (GOES-R) program has resulted in less accurate meteorological data from the GOES-16 and GOES-17 weather satellites now in orbit, according to an audit by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General (IG). [Full Report]

NOAA’s failure to properly address an overheating problem discovered during ground testing in 2017 led to the degraded performance of GOES-17’s main instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). The GOES-16 satellite, which was already in orbit at the time, is also suffering from overheating of its ABI to a lesser degree, the report found.

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House Science Committee Chairwoman Blasts Ross, Trump on Hurricane Dorian Actions

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, DC, September 10, 2019 – Yesterday, the New York Times reported “Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at NOAA on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.”

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) made the following statement.

“I am extremely disturbed by the directive that NOAA leadership sent on September 6, which threatens the integrity and public trust of weather forecasts at the peak of Hurricane season. I am even more distressed to learn that political interference from the Secretary of Commerce may be behind the directive. The Committee will pursue this issue and we expect full cooperation from the Department of Commerce in our efforts. I would remind Department employees of the whistleblower protections afforded them by law. Any employees with information are welcome to share anonymously via the Committee Whistleblower Page.”

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Report: Wilbur Ross Threatened Firings at NOAA Over Sharpiegate

Wilbur Ross

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The New York Times reports that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top officials at NOAA unless they backed President Donald Trump’s claim that he was right when he tweeted about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama with worse damage than anticipated.

Meanwhile, NOAA’s top scientist is investigating whether the statement backing Trump’s claim violates the agency’s scientific integrity rules.

Trump tweeted on Sept. 1 that Alabama would be one of the states hit by the Category 5 storm. The warning was quickly contradicted by the National Weather Service’s office in Birmingham, Ala.

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House Science Committee Not Buying Ajit Pai’s Assurances on Weather Forecasting

Ajit Pai

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The battle over 5G wireless frequency allocation is heating up.

On  one side, there’s NASA, the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who say that spectrum in the 24GHz band the government recently auctioned off to private companies will likely result in cell signals that would interfere with accurate weather forecasting.

On the other side is Federal Communications Commission  and its chairman, Ajit Pai, who ignored requests to delay the auction while more studies were done. Pai recently told the Senate Science Committee to ignore what he called faulty data presented by NASA and NOAA at the 11th hour.

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Commerce Department Releases Report on Driving Space Commerce Through Effective Spectrum Policy

WASHINGTON (Commerce Department PR) — Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross sent a report to President Donald J. Trump detailing thirteen recommendations that will improve the global competitiveness of the American space sector through updated domestic and international spectrum policies.

This report was developed collaboratively with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Space Council, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as other Federal entities, to create a set of proposals the Federal Government as a whole can adopt to fuel the growth of the U.S. space commerce economy.

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NASA & Commerce Department Battle FCC Over 5G Frequency Allocation

Ajit Pai

SpaceNews reports that NASA and the Commerce Department are battling the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over the commission’s plan to auction radio frequency spectrum for 5G service.

The battle has apparently taken the form of an exchange of tersely written letters.

In a March 8 letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai emphasized the Trump Administration’s commitment to rolling out 5G as soon as possible and freeing up spectrum for it.

The FCC is preparing to auction 2,909 licenses in the 24.25 to 25.25 bands of the electromagnetic spectrum on March 14. At the same time, the FCC is preparing the U.S. government’s proposal for the 2019 World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) in Egypt starting in October. The U.S. plan for protecting passive microwave services from interference is far less stringent than plans published by other nations.

Ross and Bridenstine asked for further discussion of the U.S. position.

“The current FCC proposal would have a significant negative impact on the transmission of critical Earth science data – an American taxpayer investment spanning decades and billions of dollars,” they wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to Pai. “As the U.S. government continues to investigate additional spectrum for future commercial broadband use, it is essential that protections are established for the critical operations of NASA, the Department of Commerce and our international partners in the 23.6 to 24 GHz spectrum band.”

Pai wrote back on March 8 rejecting the idea of putting the auction on hold and attending an inter-agency meeting scheduled for today.











House, Senate Committees Set Dueling Hearings on America’s Future in Space


House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
America in Space: Future Visions, Current Issues

Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2019 – 10:00 am EST
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses

  • Dr. Ellen Stofan, John and Adrienne Mars Director, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Former NASA Chief Scientist
  • Dr. Peggy A. Whitson, Technical Consultant and Former Astronaut
  • Mr. Frank A. Rose, Senior Fellow, Security and Strategy, The Brookings Institution, Former Assistant Secretary of State

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
The New Space Race: Ensuring U.S. Global Leadership on the Final Frontier

Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2019 – 10:00 am EST
Location: G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “The New Space Race: Ensuring U.S. Global Leadership on the Final Frontier,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The hearing will discuss the U.S. government’s strategy for maintaining leadership in space, ensuring space industry competitiveness, and addressing challenges to spacefaring preeminence.

Witnesses:

  • The Honorable Jim Bridenstine, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Mr. Kevin O’Connell, Director, Office of Space Commerce, Department of Commerce

Live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.