What Might Happen to NASA’s Earth Science Programs Under Bridenstine?

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Imagine the following scenario: NASA’s Earth Science division gets its budget cut with key missions focused on climate change canceled.

The new NASA administrator then announces the division will be dismantled, with various programs divided among other federal departments, in order to better focus the space agency on exploration. The bulk of the programs end up at NOAA, which the NASA administrator says is a much more appropriate home for them.

NOAA, however, is already reeling from spending cuts. Struggling to perform its own forecasting duties on a reduced budget, the agency has little bandwidth to take on any additional responsibilities. And the funding allocated for the NASA programs that were just transferred over is woefully inadequate for the tasks at hand.

The result is a bureaucratic train wreck in which America’s Earth science and climate research programs gradually wither away due to mismanagement, neglect and lack of funding. The ability of the nation — and the world — to understand and address the changes the planet experiencing is greatly reduced. At some future date, another administration will have to rebuild a program in shambles that was once the envy of the world.

Sound far fetched? Think again. It could very well happen if the Trump Administration and the man it has nominated to lead NASA get what they want out of Congress.


Act Requiring Commercial Weather Data Program Passes House

The House of Representatives has approved a far-reaching measure designed to revamp NOAA’s weather forecasting operations that includes a pilot program for using commercial weather data.

The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 requires NOAA to develop a strategy for acquiring commercial weather data and to enter into at least one contract under a pilot program. The data can be obtained through contracts with commercial providers and the placement of instruments on co-hosted private or government payloads.

“The strategy shall assess the range of commercial opportunities, including public-private partnerships, for obtaining surface-based, aviation-based, and space-based weather observations,” the act stipulates. “The strategy shall include the expected cost-effectiveness of these opportunities as well as provide a plan for procuring data, including an expected implementation timeline, from these nongovernmental sources, as appropriate.”

The measure provides $6 million per year for the pilot program in Fiscal Years 2017 through 2020.

Three years after signing a commercial weather contract, NOAA would submit an assessment of the viability of commercial weather data to the House and Senate science committees. If the data are viable, the agency would be required to assess whether it needs to develop future weather satellites on its own or could rely on commercial purchases.

The act requires NOAA to conduct a simulation experiment to assess the value of radio occulation from the global navigation satellite system. The agency would also conduct an experiment “to assess the value of data from a geostationary hyperspectral sounder global constellation….

“Upon completion of all Observing System Simulation Experiments, the Assistant Administrator shall make available to the public the results an assessment of related private and public sector weather data sourcing options, including their availability, affordability, and cost-effectiveness,” the act reads.

Atlas V Launches New NOAA GOES-R Weather Satellite

The GOES-R satellite will be NOAA's most sophisticated weather observation spacecraft and is expected to improve forecasts and tracking substantially. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
The GOES-R satellite will be NOAA’s most sophisticated weather observation spacecraft and is expected to improve forecasts and tracking substantially. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA successfully launched for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the first in a series of highly advanced geostationary weather satellites Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.


A Close Look at the Space Renaissance Act’s National Security Provisions

Rep. Jim Bridenstine
Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s (R-OK) American Space Renaissance Act calls for major changes in the way national security space operations are carried out.

The measure calls on the president to develop a doctrine to deal with attacks on U.S. government and commercial satellites.

It also broadly focuses on integrating commercial assets to supplement defense systems, including hosting DOD payloads on private satellites, using commercial communications systems, and purchasing commercial space data for weather forecasting.

A summary of the provisions follows. A number of the changes have been incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act, which was recently approved by the House Armed Services Committee. Adopted provisions are marked in blue.