The first contracts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were awarded on November 20 to commercial satellite operators GeoOptics and Spire Global, enabling the purchase of radio occultation data from them.
For several years, both companies have worked on developing, manufacturing, and operating satellites to gather atmospheric temperature, pressure, and water vapour observations, which would then be inputted in operational weather forecasts, and these awards were a result of that.
The combined value of the two-year indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contracts awarded to GeoOptics and Spire Global, is $23 million. NOAA also awarded initial task orders to both organisations on Nov. 20. However, the individual value of those orders remains undisclosed.
NOAA has been analysing radio occultation data compiled by private companies through the Commercial Weather Data Pilot, since 2016. In June this year, the agency published a report that stated that “the commercial sector is capable of providing the quality of data needed to help support NOAA’s operational weather forecasting needs.”
Assistant administrator for satellite and information services at NOAA, Steve Volz, stated at the American Meteorological Society’s conference in Boston in January, that NOAA aims to acquire as many as 20,000 soundings per day. A considerable part of the data is expected to be provided by the six satellites that make up the second U.S.-Taiwan Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) constellation, launched in 2019.
Spire Global manages a constellation of over 100 Lemur cubesats equipped with multiple sensors that can track ships at sea, as well as an aircraft in flight, besides obtaining atmospheric data by monitoring signals from global navigation satellites like GPS, travelling through the atmosphere.
In an email to SpaceNews, Keith Johnson, Spire Global vice president and general manager – federal, said, “We are pleased that NOAA has selected Spire for the operational procurement of radio occultation. Our missions are synergistic and we look forward to a long and happy partnership. We believe this represents both an amazing third-party validation as it deeply illustrates the kind of collaboration that is possible between public and private institutions to support such a critical service for people and businesses around the world.”
On the other hand, GeoOptics focuses solely on weather data, using a smaller constellation of cubesats called CICERO (for Community Initiative for Cellular Earth Remote Observation), which are nearly twice as big as the Lemurs. The size of its constellations haven’t been publicly revealed by GeoOptics.
CEO of GeoOptics, Conrad Lautenbacher, in an email to SpaceNews, said, “GeoOptics is very pleased and excited about our new contract with NOAA. We look forward to providing top-of-the-line radio occultation data for use in National Weather Service forecasts.”
NOAA analysed data from 12 Lemurs and two CICEROs, during its Commercial Weather Data Pilot project.