The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Environment, and Oversight Subcommittee held a joint hearing entitled “Bridging the Gap: America’s Weather Satellites and Weather Forecasting.”
NOAA’s current polar-orbiting satellite for the afternoon orbit is due to expire before its replacement is ready to be launched. Polar-orbiting satellites do not only provide critical weather data used by the National Weather Service and Coast Guard, but also monitor sea ice levels in Alaskan and Arctic waters. Subcommittee members examined the scheduled delay and its implications for the nation’s security. Members also proposed ways to minimize the impact of upcoming gaps as well as mitigate future gaps. The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) projects have been initiated and will launch in future years, but in the meantime, the committee explored the possibility of using satellites from private companies to provide weather data. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) explained, “There is a burgeoning commercial industry that has incredible potential to assist us in providing accurate information to protect American lives and property, disaggregate risks and save the taxpayers’ dollars.” Witnesses who testified were not opposed to using commercial weather data to help mitigate the impacts of upcoming gaps, but David Powner, Director of Information Technology Management Issues at Government Accountability Office (GAO) stressed the need to consider factors, such as cost, before proceeding with the option to utilize data from the private sector. As another mitigation strategy, subcommittee members queried if separating the NOAA and NASA might be a feasible option. The two agencies have been partners in developing the nation’s weather satellites for over 40 years; NASA develops satellite projects while NOAA carries out operations. Assistant Administrator Stephen Volz, National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Services at NOAA, warned that separating the two agencies would be damaging to the performance of delivering weather services. The committee agreed to provide the support needed to accelerate the production and launch of replacement satellites.