NOAA calls for funding increases for next-generation satellite programs

WASHINGTON — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is again asking for a significant budget increase for future weather satellite programs after Congress cut its 2023 funding request.

In its fiscal year 2024 budget proposal, recently posted online, NOAA requested $417.4 million for the Geostationary Extended Observations, or GeoXO, program from next-generation geostationary weather satellites. This program received $285 million in the fiscal year 2023 omnibus spending bill in December.

NOAA had requested significantly more funding for GeoXO in 2023: $653.8 million. In the omnibus bill, Congress said the smaller amount would be enough to complete ongoing formulation studies and award a development contract for an imager.

NOAA selected L3Harris to supply this imager on March 13 under a contract worth $765.5 million. NOAA expects to award a contract for a sounder instrument later this year. He said the funding requested for 2024 would allow him to award contracts for the remaining instruments and the spacecraft themselves.

GeoXO is NOAA’s largest satellite program ever, with an estimated total life cycle cost of $19.6 billion. This covers the development of six satellites and their operations until the middle of the century.

NOAA has received $301 million for the ongoing GOES-R series of geostationary weather satellites. It has requested $276 million for the program in 2024, an expected reduction as the last of the programme’s four satellites, GOES-U, is ready for launch in April 2024.

The agency is also seeking additional funding for polar-orbiting weather satellites. The proposal requests $342.4 million in fiscal year 2024 for the Polar Weather Satellites program, which includes the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) series of satellites. This program received $183.5 million in 2023 after NOAA requested $350.2 million.

The funding would allow NOAA to continue work on the JPSS-3 and -4 satellites, which are currently scheduled for launch in late 2027 and late 2032, respectively. However, at a March 28 meeting of a committee of the National Academies Space Studies Board, Steve Volz, NOAA’s deputy administrator for satellite and information services, said the agency was considering swap the order of these launches. This would allow further testing of a NASA instrument called Libera to measure solar radiation reflected from Earth and thermal radiation emitted from it. Libera will be hosted on JPSS-3.

“We are talking about changing the timing of launch dates to allow for better testing of Libera before launch,” he said.

The successor to JPSS, formerly called LEO Weather Satellites in NOAA’s budget, is now known as the Near Earth Orbit Network (NEON). “It won’t be, if things go as planned, large satellites but several small satellites,” Volz said. NOAA is requesting $133.6 million for NEON, up from $96.4 million received in 2023, to support the work of an exploratory mission called QuickSounder.

“Before we embark on a whole new architectural approach to creating a nation-critical function, we need to test it, and we are testing it with QuickSounder,” he said. This mission will demonstrate not only the technologies, but also the capability to develop spacecraft in three years, a fraction of larger traditional programs.

In space weather, NOAA is requesting $97.2 million for the Space Weather Follow On (SWFO) program, a planned decrease from the $136.2 million it received in 2023 as the SWFO-L1 spacecraft is ready for carpool launch on NASA’s IMAP mission in 2025. and a compact coronagraph instrument is on board GOES-U.

NOAA is asking for a $73.4 million increase for the Space Weather Next program, from $151.6 million in 2023 to $225 million in 2024. This would include a new satellite to succeed SWFO-L1 and an instrument flying on a European Space Agency spacecraft, Vigil, which would operate from the Earth-Sun L-5 Lagrange point.

NOAA also hosts the Office of Space Commerce, which received $70 million of the $87 million requested in fiscal year 2023 to fund work on space traffic management, primarily a data repository now called Traffic Coordination Space System (TraCSS). NOAA is requesting $88 million for the desktop in 2024 to continue development of TraCSS, with the goal of reaching initial operating capability by the end of 2024.

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