First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine wants to privatize, at least partially, the nation’s weather satellites.
As new chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment, whose responsibilities include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its subagency, the National Weather Service, Bridenstine is in a position to begin implementing his ideas for changing the way NOAA does business.
On Tuesday, during a live-streamed joint hearing on NOAA’s satellite programs, Bridenstine outlined some of his expectations.
“The paradigm of owning and operating large, monolithic satellites is broken,” Bridenstine said during his prepared remarks opening the hearing. “To address this problem, we should look to augment our satellite systems through commercial means.
“There is a large commercial industry that has incredible potential to assist us in providing accurate information,” he said. “Considering options that reduce the burden on massive government satellite systems (would) allow us to more accurately predict the weather.”
Bridenstine takes over chairmanship of the subcommittee at a pivotal moment for NOAA. Its two primary satellite systems, one in polar orbit and the other in stationary orbit over the United States, are both nearing the end of their operational lives. Their replacements, however, are not expected to be in orbit and fully functioning until months or even years after the existing satellites are scheduled to go silent.
NOAA officials say they expect the current satellites to continue working past those dates but admit there could be gaps in data beginning later this year.
Bridenstine’s support of commercial satellites and data-gathering have led some to think he wants to end the ongoing NOAA projects, but in interviews and again Thursday he said that is not the case.
“I think (the programs) need to go forward as planned,” Bridenstine told Space News in December. “Those programs need to be fully funded. … But we need to start pilot approaches for things … that lead us to a day where we are not so reliant on billion-dollar, monolithic satellites.”
Bridenstine said much the same on Thursday. He pointed out that a growing portion of NOAA’s budget is going toward its satellite program and that cost overruns and missed deadlines in development of the new systems are becoming a problem.
“We need a robust, space-based, weather data architecture that is resilient and disaggregated to enhance the safety of the American people,” he said.