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The House science, space, and technology committee has approved a new bill that establishes a coordinating structure for the many government agencies involved in observing and research space weather, the material that the Sun throws at us that can affect electrical grids and communications.
A similar bill has been approved by the Senate commerce committee, but with several important differences, the most important of which is likely this provision in the House bill:
The provision requires NOAA to establish a commercial space weather data pilot program within one year of the bill’s enactment. Through that program, NOAA is to offer to enter into contracts with “one or more entities in the commercial space weather sector” to provide data that meets standards and specifications that NOAA, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, must publish within 18 months of enactment. The data may be ground-based, ocean-based, air-based, or space-based. NOAA “may offer” to award “at least one” competitively-bid contract within 12 months of when the Integrated Strategy required in the bill, as reviewed by the National Academies, is transmitted to Congress. “If” one or more contract is awarded, NOAA is to assess the value of the pilot program and report to Congress within 4 years of enactment.
The goal of this provision is to shift construction of new space weather facilities, including satellites, from the government to private industry. Like NASA and the Defense Department, NOAA in recent decades has generally done a poor job of building satellites cheaply and quickly to maintain its in-space monitoring network. The hope is that by depending on the growing private sector, the agency can get its satellites replaced more effectively, while also energizing the space private sector.
The Senate and House bills both have only passed through committee. We shall see if the Senate agrees to add this provision to its version of the bill.