Senate Appropriators Reject Trump’s Cut to Weather Satellite Budget

The Senate Appropriations Committee has rejected a proposal by the Trump Administration for a significant funding in a key NOAA weather satellite program.

Senate appropriators have provided $419 million for the Polar Follow-on (PFO) program for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018). The program is aimed on developing two Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft to follow two already funded JPSS satellites.  The JPSS-1 satellite is scheduled for launch later this year.

The administration has proposed spending $180 million for the Polar Follow-on program. NOAA said it wants to “re-plan” the program to take into account other polar orbiting spacecraft, cost-saving measures and potential partnerships.

“Funding for PFO is critical for maintaining polar orbiting satellite data, which is already at risk for a potential gap due to program mismanagement and funding shortfalls in PFO’s predecessor programs,” according to the appropriations committee report.

“In light of the critical role that these satellites play in protecting American lives and property, the Committee finds it perplexing that the Department of Commerce and NOAA would propose to cut this program,” the report adds. “This cut, and the proposed but unspecified postponement of the JPSS–3 and JPSS–4 satellites, would introduce a weather forecasting risk that this Committee is unwilling to accept.”

The House Appropriations Committee has approved only $50 million for the program, far less than what the administration requested and Senate appropriators would provide.

House appropriators cited a lack of details about NOAA’s “dramatic and incipient re-plan” of the PFO program for the small budget allocation.

“Yet the request fails to assess the purported new mission design’s impacts on constellation availability, or to provide an updated gap analysis, or new annual or lifecycle cost estimates,” a committee report states.

“In the absence of these assessments and estimates, the Committee recommends $50,000,000 for the Polar Follow-On program. The Committee will reassess this funding level, should NOAA provide a new program plan and schedule, to include constellation availability assessments, gap analysis and updated annual and lifecycle cost estimates,” the report added.

Despite the disagreement on the PFO program, Congress and the White House are on the same page regarding two other weather satellite programs.

Senate and House appropriators approved the administration’s budget requests of $775.8 million for the JPSS program and $518.5 million for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R ( GOES-R) program.

The White House and Congress at at odds on how much to spend on a commercial satellite weather data pilot program. The administration proposed spending $3 million on the program. House appropriators have provided $6 million while their Senate counterparts cut the request to $2 million.

There is also disagreement over NOAA’s space weather follow-on program, which aims to develop satellites to replace the DSCOVR spacecraft at the end of its lifetime.

The House bill would provide the space weather program $8.5 million while the Senate measure would provide $5 million. The administration proposed spending $500,000 on the program. It also proposed zeroing out funding for the DSCOVR satellite.

“The Federal Government needs an operationalized space weather architecture that allows sufficient warning times to protect our communications and electrical infrastructure from severe space weather events,” the Senate report states. “In architecting the follow-on missions, NOAA should consider using lower cost satellites, following NASA’s Explorer class model.”