NOAA signs first contract for private weather satellites

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The competition heats up: NOAA this week signed its first contracts, totaling just over a million dollars, with two different private cubesat companies.

The small deals—$695,000 to GeoOptics and $370,000 to Spire—come as part of NOAA’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot. The deals will allow the agency to evaluate the quality of the firms’ data for forecasts and warnings, and could be the first step in a broader embrace of commercial satellites. Until now, NOAA has gathered data by building and launching its own expensive weather satellites rather than buying data from private companies.

…Plagued by cost overruns on its own satellites, NOAA has been pressured by Congress to explore commercial weather satellites, which included a mandate for the commercial weather pilot in its 2016 appropriations.

There is no reason NOAA cannot shift from being the maker of satellites to being a customer buying weather data from private satellites, much as NASA has been shifting from being a builder of rockets and spaceships to being a buyer of privately built rockets and spaceships. The shift will create competition and innovation while saving the taxpayer a lot of money.

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