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.

Progress Made Toward Priorities Defined in 2013-2022 Solar and Space Physics Decadal Survey

In this image, taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory on Feb. 27, 2000, a coronal mass ejection is seen erupting from the Sun, which is hidden by the disk in the middle, so the fainter material around it can be seen. (Credits: ESA/NASA/SOHO)

WASHINGTON (National Academies of Sciences PR) – NASA, NSF, and NOAA have made substantial progress in implementing the programs recommended in the 2013 decadal survey on solar and space physics (heliophysics) despite a challenging budgetary landscape, says a new midterm assessment from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Heliophysics is the study of our star, the Sun, its influences on the planets of our solar system, and its interaction with interstellar space. It is also the science behind space weather.

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NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal 2019 Second Warmest Year on Record

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — According to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2019 were the second warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880.

Globally, 2019 temperatures were second only to those of 2016 and continued the planet’s long-term warming trend: the past five years have been the warmest of the last 140 years.

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House Science Committee Approves Space Weather Bill

Space weather effects. (Credit: ESA/Science Office)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House Science Committee has unanimously approved a bill designed to enable the federal government to coordinate its monitoring of and response to space weather events.

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Trump Nominates Jacobs as NOAA Administrator

Neil Jacobs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly three years into Donald Trump’s term as president, NOAA might actually get a permanent administrator.

On Wednesday, Trump nominated Neil Jacobs to serve as the Department of Commerce’s under secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, which is another name for NOAA administrator.

Jacobs is serving as acting NOAA administrator in his current position as assistant secretary of commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction.

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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.

NASA Selects ULA’s Atlas V Rocket to Launch GOES-T Weather Satellite

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the AEHF-4 mission for the U.S. Air Force lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41. (Credit: ULA)

Centennial, Colo., Dec. 18, 2019 (ULA PR) – NASA’s Launch Services Program announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) proven Atlas V vehicle to launch the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-T mission, the second to last satellite in the GOES constellation. This award resulted from a competitive Launch Service Task Order evaluation under the NASA Launch Services II contract.

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Myers Withdraws Nomination to Head NOAA

Barry Lee Myers

President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has withdrawn from consideration for health reasons.

Barry Lee Myers, 76, told The Washington Times that he has had surgery for and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

Myers’ nomination to lead NOAA had languished in the Senate for more than two years since the White House announced it in October 2017. Opponents of the nomination said he lacked scientific expertise and had conflicts of interest because the position entails overseeing the National Weather Service (NWS).

Myers was previously CEO and general counsel of  AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting company founded by his older brother, Joel. The family-owned firm has backed efforts to curtail the information the NWS could release, arguing that the government agency competes with private services.

Myers stepped down from his post at AccuWeather and promised to divest himself of his holdings in the company. But, the moves were insufficient to advance his nomination to a Senate vote.

Trump Administration Opposes Additional Study of Possible 5G Weather Satellite Interference

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

The Trump Administration is opposed to any further study on whether new 5G communications services will interfere with meteorological satellites and degrade the accuracy of weather forecasting.

In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the White House said it wants a provision removed from the FY 2020 funding bill that would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to review the impact of 5G services operating in the 23.6 to 24 gigahertz bands on weather satellites.

“Such a study would be directly duplicative of past Agency studies on this subject, which were fully considered by the Administration in a lengthy interagency process earlier this year, leading to a carefully-wrought compromise that balances the spectrum needs of government and private enterprise,” wrote Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Some studies have shown that 5G transmissions could interfere with weather satellites. However, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has criticized the studies as flawed.

China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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Senate Appropriators Boost NASA’s Budget by $1.25 Billion

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Senate Appropriations Committee PR) – The Senate Committee on Appropriations today approved the FY2020 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act, which makes investments to support law enforcement, economic prosperity, scientific research, space exploration, and other national priorities.

The $70.833 billion measure is $6.715 billion above the FY2019 enacted level and funds the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and related agencies. 

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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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NOAA Mishap Board Completes Investigation into NOAA’s GOES-17 ABI Anomaly

The GOES-S satellite being lowered into a thermal vacuum chamber. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

WASHINGTON, DC (NOAA PR) — A blockage in the loop heat pipe of the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), the primary instrument on NOAA’s GOES-17 satellite, prevented the instrument from cooling properly and impeded its ability to collect data, according to a special Mishap Investigation Board.

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