Capitalism in space: President Trump today signed the new law that strongly encourages NOAA to begin using privately acquired weather data.
Among the bill’s provisions is language formally authorizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to purchase weather data from commercial satellite systems. The bill authorizes NOAA to spend $6 million a year in fiscal years 2017 through 2020 for a pilot program of data purchases to evaluate the effectiveness of commercial data to support weather forecasting.
NOAA has already started such a pilot program using $3 million appropriated to the agency in fiscal year 2016. In September 2016, NOAA awarded contracts to GeoOptics and Spire, with a combined value of a little more than $1 million, for GPS radio occultation data.
These are only baby steps. At this time NOAA’s bureaucracy views commercial space the same way that NASA did back in 2004: it is a threat and also incapable of doing the job. Since NOAA today, like NASA in 2004, has been unable to do the job very well itself, its ability to argue against private space is limited. Expect the pressure to build for NOAA to hand over more and more of its weather-gathering work to private companies.
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