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Weather data pilot includes Hurricane Michael

Weather scientists generate certain types of weather data by comparing how radio waves from the Global Navigation Satellite System react to the atmosphere, weather and climate. An Air Force Other Transaction Agreement will ask a third-party analyst to study the utility of data generated by GPS signal shifts in the atmosphere, called a radio occulation measurement. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

Weather scientists generate certain types of weather data by comparing how radio waves from the Global Navigation Satellite System react to the atmosphere, weather and climate. An Air Force Other Transaction Agreement will ask a third-party analyst to study the utility of data generated by GPS signal shifts in the atmosphere, called a radio occulation measurement. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A prototype project managed at Hanscom, providing the Air Force access to commercial weather data began Oct. 1, nine days before Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle.

The $8.1 million, one-year prototyping initiative asks an independent data processing company to study the utility of commercial data for the Air Force’s Global Air-Land Weather Exploitation Model. U.S. Air Force and Army combatant commanders use GALWEM to inform daily operations, combat missions and exercises. Data in the report will include information gathered when the Category 4 hurricane made landfall near Tyndall Air Force Base recently.

“The Air Force was directed by Congress to assess whether commercially-generated data can benefit the Air Force weather mission,” said Brad Tyndall, deputy program manager for weather data analysis at Hanscom. “We’re looking at using commercially-owned, small, cheap, cube satellites to fill in particular data set gaps for us. The objective is to show that commercial satellite data has the potential to augment or eventually replace some of the Air Force’s organic capabilities. We can get more data without having to field major systems, which can be costly when that system is a satellite.” 

The Other Transaction Agreement is executed under the Open Source Acquisition Initiative managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate, Rome, New York. The prototyping project is the first stage in an effort to bring more startups, small businesses and other non-traditional defense contractors into the field.

On Aug. 3, the Air Force awarded the prototype project. By Oct. 1, Atmospheric and Space Technology Research Associates, a Boulder, Colorado-headquartered Limited Liability Corporation received the first commercially-generated reports. As an independent party, ASTRA will assess the utility of the data and provide a final report to the Air Force. 

According to a memorandum for the prototype project award, the effort is in response to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Data from the project will also eventually feed into a supercomputer named ‘Thor,’ an acquisition project also executed at Hanscom.

“As we research more capabilities from this industry, our overarching goal is to find out if we can bring better data to Airmen executing missions worldwide,” said 1st Lt. Alex Thomas, program manager for the commercial weather data pilot. “That information is valuable, and a major part of what we’re doing is finding out exactly how valuable it is on the commercial market, and can the Air Force justify that cost compared to the infrastructure we need to generate it ourselves.”