NOAA eyes data blowing in solar winds

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seeks to reduce the government's cost of collecting information about sunspots and other solar events by purchasing the data from private companies using smaller, cheaper sensors.

The Commerce Department agency is seeking to hire a vendor to study the status of commercial equipment for gathering information about solar flares, which are also known as coronal mass ejections. According to agency procurement information provided via market research firm Input Inc. of Reston, Va., NOAA could achieve advantages in its schedule for providing the solar wind data it is required to gather by using commercial equipment and services.

The government now gathers much of its solar wind data from sensors on NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft.

NASA launched ACE in 1997. The spacecraft now orbits the sun at a location that is about 1 percent of the Earth's distance from the Sun. Its location at the L1 'libration point' is an area of gravitational equilibrium between Earth and the Sun that provides a stable vantage point for ACE's six high-resolution sensors and three monitoring instruments. The sensors and instruments sample passing solar wind and 'galactic particles,' according to the ACE program.

'When reporting space weather, ACE can provide an advance warning (about one hour) of geomagnetic storms that can overload power grids, disrupt communications on Earth, and present a hazard to astronauts,' according to NASA.

NOAA is seeking a contractor that would evaluate the credibility of private companies that might be able to provide the solar data, and start doing so before the ACE project reaches the end of its useful life, the agency said. The contractor also would report to NOAA on the status of activities in the private sector to develop smaller and less costly sensors to gather solar wind data and information about solar flares and sunspots, according to the acquisition plan.

Information about the procurement is available online at fedbizopps.gov. NOAA issued a request for proposals on June 8. The deadline for proposals is July 9, according to the procurement documents.

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