Senate Bill Sets Stiff Requirements for Future NOAA Satellites - UPDATE
UPDATE, May 20, 2015: The Senate Commerce Committee approved the bill, as amended, today. The amendments are posted on the committee's website.
ORIGINAL STORY, May 14, 2015: A bill introduced today in the Senate by the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee would set stiff requirements for future NOAA satellites as part of an effort to improve "seasonal" weather forecasts. The bill, S. 1331, is scheduled for markup by the committee next week.
Committee chairman John Thune (R-SD) teamed with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to introduce the Seasonal Forecasting Improvement Act. "Seasonal" is defined in the bill as longer than two weeks, but shorter than two years. The main goal is to improve forecasts for unusually cold winters or hot summers, or drought, but the bill also includes provisions aimed at reforming NOAA's procurement of satellites.
The intent of some of the satellite-related provisions is not clear and questions posed to the committee by SpacePolicyOnline.com were not answered as of the time of this writing. The following summary therefore relies simply on the language in the bill, which would require NOAA to --
In addition, NOAA is prohibited from procuring any future "program phase" of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) if the aggregate cost exceeds the aggregate cost "that was incurred ... in procuring the Joint Polar Satellite System 1 and 2" as adjusted for inflation. NOAA usually expresses the cost of the JPSS program, which includes the first two satellites, as $11.3 billion. That cost includes about $4 billion from NOAA's share of the since-cancelled DOD-NOAA-NASA National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). Whether the bill's sponsors intend to use $11.3 billion, as adjusted for inflation, as the ceiling for the cost of additional JPSS "program phases" or if they mean to exclude the NPOESS costs is one of the questions that remains to be answered.
The House is scheduled to debate its Weather Forecasting Improvement Act, H.R. 1561, next week. H.R. 1561 and S. 1331 seem to have similar intents, especially changing how NOAA procures satellites, but take different approaches.
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