NOAA’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot Takes Flight

For decades, NOAA has had a robust, mutually beneficial relationship with our private sector aerospace industry partners. Commercial space services are rapidly changing and new approaches are emerging for the development and operation of satellites, drawing many more data service providers into the Earth observation market. To guide the agency’s efforts to capitalize on the opportunities offered by these changes, NOAA released a policy framework earlier this year to acquire new satellite weather data from industry. NOAA’s Commercial Space Policy outlines the tools NOAA will use in this effort as well as the principles to guide it.

Stephen Volz, assistant administrator for NOAA Satellite and Information Services. Credit: Kate patterson

Stephen Volz, assistant administrator for NOAA
Satellite and Information Services. Credit: Kate patterson

We’ve expanded the role of our Office of Space Commerce to be a single point of entry for companies interested in working with us.

We will continue to hold industry roundtables to maintain an ongoing dialogue throughout the process. The key word is “dialogue;” we want to make a point of two-way, collaborative discussions to share information on needs, capabilities, and capacities.

The nation counts on the accuracy and timeliness of the data and services NOAA and its space agency partners have provided for more than 40 years. We must ensure any new data we acquire is useable and based on the best available science. We must maintain the standards outlined by NOAA’s National Weather Service as we look to expand our observational capabilities, either through government deployed systems, international partnerships, or commercial solutions.

This isn’t about government obstruction. It’s about maintaining and improving the accuracy of our forecasts, watches and warnings. NOAA is committed to an open and transparent process, and we will communicate early and often what our requirements are to maintain data standards. This will include posting historical measurement and observation standards and requirements, and, as new capabilities and objectives emerge, our standards and expectations for emerging requirements.

To accomplish this, we will use demonstration projects to validate the viability of incorporating commercial data into NOAA’s weather forecast models. These demos will facilitate the commercial sector’s ability to contribute to improved NOAA products and services while ensuring we uphold our responsibility to provide high-quality forecasts through the use of proven, trusted data. It’s a win-win solution: commercial firms gain a trial-run for their data through an evaluation process conducted by NOAA, and NOAA receives the information needed to consider sustained use of that commercial data operationally.

NOAA is conducting the first of these demonstrations beginning this year, called the Commercial Weather Data Pilot.

Today we released the plan and timeline for executing this pilot, which is available at www.space.commerce.gov/business-with-noaa/commercial-weather-data-pilotcwdp/. NOAA will buy and evaluate commercial data to test its quality and potential value to our weather forecasts and warnings, focusing on Global Navigation Satellite System Radio Occultation (RO) data. Developed as a research tool, NOAA has been using RO observations in our forecast models since 2007, with demonstrated benefits to mediumrange weather forecasts. Existing and near-term planned missions are owned and operated by NOAA and several other global government agencies. A number of commercial suppliers are also deploying or preparing to deploy small constellations of satellites. Through the pilot, NOAA will explore the benefits of incorporating observations from these emerging sources into our existing observing system.

Given the changing landscape of the commercial space industry, the challenge for us all is to work together to produce the best Earth observations possible, and to ensure we make best use of all the capabilities our industry and community bring forth. NOAA supports the commercial sector’s growing participation in the weather enterprise. We look forward to our continued partnership with the private sector, and the new opportunities these efforts will bring.