Liftoff for Pioneering Nanosats

Pioneer Spire nanosatellite in RF test chamber. (Credit: Spire)

SRIHARIKOTA, India (ESA PR) — The first ‘Pioneer’ mission lifted off last week from Sriharikota, India, with the two inventive little nanosatellites now circling the Earth, ready for action.

The shoebox-sized satellites were launched at 04:27 GMT into low Earth orbit by the Indian Space Research Organisation’s PLSV launcher, and opened their first communication windows with their owner, Spire Global, less than an hour after they separated from the rocket.

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NOAA Continues Push Toward Innovative Partnerships with Second Round of Commercial Weather Data Pilot

Radio occultation helps to increase the accuracy of weather prediction models by measuring the refraction of radio signals beamed through Earth’s atmosphere. (Credit; NOAA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NESDIS has awarded contracts to three satellite companies as part of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot (CWDP) Round Two.

Awardees Spire, GeoOptics, and PlanetIQ will each provide space-based radio occultation data to NOAA for the purpose of demonstrating data quality and potential value to NOAA’s weather forecasts and warnings.

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NOAA Issues RFP for Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program

NOAA has issued a request for proposals for the second phase of its commercial weather data pilot program.

The program’s goal is to determine whether GPS radio occultation data from commercial satellites can be used to improve weather forecasting. Radio occultation involves the change in a radio signal as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere, allowing for the measurement of physical properties there.

The firm-fixed price contracts for the second phase will run from  Aug. 27, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019. The data collection and delivery period will run from Oct. 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.

Companies are required to provide at least two periods of at least three consecutive months of radio occultation data during the collection period. A minimum of 500 atmospheric soundings per day are required. Data must be delivered to NOAA at least once per week.

NASA issued contracts to GeoOptics and Spire for the first phase of the pilot program in September 2016. Space News reports the program did not go very smoothly, but that NOAA officials had learned a number of key lessons from it that are being included in the second phase.

GeoOptics’ contract was terminated when the company was unable to provide data because of delays in the launch of its first satellites.

While Spire did provide data, NOAA officials said later that the quality of the data fell short of expectations. “We have gone through one contract already with the radio occultation community, and we found that the data aren’t accurate enough or comprehensive enough yet to meet our observing requirements,” Stephen Volz, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said in January. Spire said that the data from its constellation of cubesats has improved significantly since the end of that initial round of the pilot program in April 2017.

NOAA officials have said for several months that they are working on a report analyzing the results of that first round of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot. However, NOAA spokesman John Leslie said May 7 that the report is still “nearing competition” within the agency and will be released publicly once it is completed.

Proposals for phase two are due on May 25.

NOAA’s GOES-S to Boost Weather Forecast Accuracy for Western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii

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

More detailed observations will improve marine, aviation forecasts and wildfire detection

WASHINGTON, DC. (NOAA PR) — NOAA is three days away from launching GOES-S, its newest geostationary weather satellite that will begin providing faster, more accurate data to track storm systems, lightning, wildfires, dense fog, and other hazards that threaten the western U.S., Hawaii, and Alaska.

“The GOES-S satellite will join GOES-16 and NOAA-20 as NOAA continues to upgrade its satellite fleet,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “The latest GOES addition will provide further insight and unrivaled accuracy into severe weather systems and wildfires in the western United States.”

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Secondary Payloads Increasingly Take Center Stage

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.

That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

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NASA CubeSat to Test Miniaturized Weather Satellite Technology

The Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration (MiRaTA) satellite, a 3U CubeSat, is shown with solar panels fully deployed, flanking the body of the spacecraft, which has a circular aperture at the top for the microwave radiometer antenna, used for atmospheric science measurements. There are also two small, thin tape-measure antennas on the top, used for UHF radio communication with the ground station. (Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (NASA PR) — Behind every weather forecast—from your local, five-day prediction to a late-breaking hurricane track update—are the satellites that make them possible. Government agencies depend on observations from weather satellites to inform forecast models that help us prepare for approaching storms and identify areas that need evacuating or emergency first responders.

Weather satellites have traditionally been large, both in the effort needed to build them and in actual size. They can take several years to build and can be as big as a small school bus. But all of that could change in the future with the help of a shoebox-sized satellite that will start orbiting Earth later this month.

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JPSS-1 to Improve U.S. Weather Forecasting

This illustration depicts the Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, spacecraft designed to provide forecasters with crucial environmental science data to provide a better understanding of changes in the Earth’s weather, oceans and climate. (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., November 18, 2017 (NOAA PR) — The Joint Polar Satellite System-1, the first in a new series of four highly advanced NOAA polar-orbiting satellites, lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at 1:47 a.m. PST this morning. The satellite’s next-generation technology will help improve the timeliness and accuracy of U.S. weather forecasts three to seven days out.

“The value of the new JPSS satellite cannot be understated after this tragic hurricane season,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “JPSS offers an unparalleled perspective on our planet’s weather, granting NOAA advanced insights which will be used to guard American lives and communities.”

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JPSS-1 Launch Scheduled for Tuesday

This illustration depicts the Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, spacecraft designed to provide forecasters with crucial environmental science data to provide a better understanding of changes in the Earth’s weather, oceans and climate. (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

The Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1), the first in a new series of four highly advanced National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) polar-orbiting satellites, is now scheduled to launch on Tuesday, Nov. 14, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex 2 is targeted for 1:47 a.m. PST (4:47 a.m. EST). Launch coverage will begin on NASA Television and the agency’s website at 1:15 a.m. PST.

JPSS represents significant technological and scientific advancements in observations used for severe weather prediction and environmental monitoring. JPSS is a collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA. The JPSS system will help increase weather forecast accuracy from three to seven days.

NOAA’s National Weather Service uses JPSS data as critical input for numerical forecast models, providing the basis for mid-range forecasts. These forecasts enable emergency managers to make timely decisions to protect American lives and property, including early warnings and evacuations.

JPSS satellites circle the Earth from pole-to-pole and cross the equator 14 times daily–providing full global coverage twice a day. Polar satellites are considered the backbone of the global observing system.

For more information, please visit https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/jpss-1.

Walking on Coals: Bridenstine Dances Around Hot Climate Change Issues

The new NASA global data set combines historical measurements with data from climate simulations using the best available computer models to provide forecasts of how global temperature (shown here) and precipitation might change up to 2100 under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Nominee Kinda Sorta Doesn’t Really
Walk Back Position on Global Warming

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Friday, the U.S. government released a long-in-the-making report on climate change that contained a stark assessment of what humans are doing to planet Earth.

“This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the report states. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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