U.S. Government Effort to Tap Private Weather Data Moves Along Slowly

Article by Isabelle Bousquette: “The U.S. government’s six-year-old effort to improve its weather forecasting ability by purchasing data from private-sector satellite companies has started to show results, although the process is moving more slowly than anticipated.

After a period of testing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific, service and regulatory arm of the Commerce Department, began purchasing data from two satellite companies, Spire Global Inc. of Vienna, Va., and GeoOptics Inc. of Pasadena, Calif.

The weather data from these two companies fills gaps in coverage left by NOAA’s own satellites, the agency said. NOAA also began testing data from a third company this year.

Beyond these companies, new entrants to the field offering weather data based on a broader range of technologies have been slow to emerge, the agency said.

“We’re getting a subset of what we hoped,” said Dan St. Jean, deputy director of the Office of System Architecture and Advanced Planning at NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service.

NOAA’s weather forecasts help the government formulate hurricane evacuation plans and make other important decisions. The agency began seeking out private sources of satellite weather data in 2016. The idea was to find a more cost-effective alternative to funding NOAA’s own satellite constellations, the agency said. It also hoped to seed competition and innovation in the private satellite sector.

It isn’t yet clear whether there is a cost benefit to using private data, in part because the relatively small number of competitors in the market has made it challenging to determine a steady market price, NOAA said.

“All the signs in the nascent ‘new space’ industry indicated that there would be a plethora of venture capitalists wanting to compete for NOAA’s commercial pilot/purchase dollars. But that just never materialized,” said Mr. St. Jean…(More)”.