U.S. Space Weather Service Faces Uncertain Future 


 

Summary

For Fiscal Year 2006 (FY06), starting October 1, 2005, the Congressional Appropriations Bill, with rescission, sets the funding for NOAA’s Space Environment Center (SEC) at $3.9 M (a reduction of 44 % below the FY05 level of $6.9 M).  In order to minimize the impact of this reduction, NOAA has developed a contingency plan to sustain SEC services through FY06.  However, this level of funding can not be sustained into FY07.  If the funding for FY07 were to remain at the FY06 level, starting October 1, 2006, SEC would lose about half its staff, crippling its ability to serve the Nation with operational products, data collection, and R&D.  Unless the appropriation level for SEC is restored to the level of the President’s FY07 Budget Request, $7.4 M, the Nation’s civilian space weather service is in trouble.  At the President’s requested funding level, SEC will return to FY05 level of services, data, and R&D.

Background

NOAA’s Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colorado provides services related to space weather phenomena and hazards.  The Center is the Nation’s unique provider of real-time monitoring and forecasting of solar and geophysical events, it conducts research in solar-terrestrial physics, and it develops techniques for forecasting solar and geophysical disturbances.  Effective in January 2005 SEC became an operational service within the National Weather Service, and is one of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

SEC jointly operates the Space Weather Operations Center with the U.S. Air Force and serves as the national and world warning center for disturbances that can affect people and equipment on Earth and in space.  Customers include commercial airlines, operators of electric power grids, communicators, satellite operators, commercial providers of value-added space weather services, the National Space Weather Program, DoD, NASA, and FAA.  Partnering with researchers funded by NSF, NASA, and the DoD, SEC is the place where much of the nation’s $100s of millions annual investment in the National Space Weather Program and in space physics research is applied for the benefit of commerce, defense, NASA spaceflight, and individual taxpayers.

In the appropriations bill for FY06, the SEC received a severe cut to its budget of about 44%, with no explanation for the reduction.   One time funding additions have kept SEC afloat in FY06.  The President’s Budget request is $7.4 million for SEC in FY07 (an amount consistent with its past budgetary levels).

Conclusion

Unless SEC’s appropriation level is returned to the level requested in the President’s Budget for FY07, the best outlook is that Space Environment Center shrinks to less than half its capability.  All ability to improve its services will cease, including all research, development, and transition work and reliable provision of GOES and POES space weather data.  The operational component will be reduced to a skeleton level.  In this case, the Nation’s space weather service will cease to improve and will not be able to meet future needs.

 

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