Remarks from WSBR Continuity of Business Summit

Remarks of Edward Morris

Director, Office of Space Commercialization
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce

Washington Space Business Roundtable Luncheon
Continuity of Business (via satellite) Summit

U.S. Chamber of Commerce
September 21, 2006

Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here on behalf of NOAA and the Department of Commerce to discuss the valuable role space-based assets play in public safety and commerce. I’d like to thank the NTIA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the SIA for conducting the “Continuity of Business Summit” and I’d especially like to thank the Washington Space Business Roundtable for the invitation to speak here today. As the Director of the Office of Space Commercialization, it is my responsibility to promote a robust and responsive U.S. space industry, in part by highlighting the economic significance of space-based assets and activities to policy makers within the U.S. Government.

The Office of Space Commercialization has seen some changes since it was established in 1988. Most recently, Congress moved the Office into NOAA in 2005 and since that time we have reinvigorated the Office to better support the nation’s four space policies including, Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (or GPS), Commercial Remote Sensing, Space Exploration, and Space Transportation. As a function to the PNT policy, the Office also supports the Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Dr. David Sampson, in his role on the Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing and hosts the PNT Coordination Office. In order to better serve our stakeholders, we have distributed a draft Strategic Plan for comment. We hope to receive your inputs to help us map the Office’s agenda for the next five years.

Unlike most other space agencies within the Federal Government, which are more mission oriented, our Office is focused on how space-based assets benefit commerce. Over the years, space has also become increasingly vital to our nation’s economic and public safety interests, presenting lucrative business opportunities and enabling the development of major infrastructures with practical uses here on Earth. In many cases, these activities have become so routine, dependable, and convenient that it is easy for the public to forget that space is involved. But the fact is we would not have CNN, DirecTV (TM), XM Radio (TM), OnStar (TM), or Google Earth (TM) if it were not for U.S. space-based assets. Our telecommunication and financial networks would work less efficiently if they were not synchronized to the Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) distributed by GPS. Our daily weather forecasts would be far less reliable without earth observing satellites. And global voice, video, and data distribution would be nearly impossible without commercial satellite communications.

As we know, the hurricane destruction of terrestrial communications facilities in the Gulf region in 2005 was extraordinary and the resulting lack of communications infrastructure severely impeded disaster relief and recovery efforts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, The National Guard, the Red Cross, first responders, utility workers, families, and local phone companies relied on satellite communication systems. Satellite service providers provided instant infrastructure and emergency voice, video, and data communications in the affected areas. The organizations utilizing services from transportable ATM machines to high-speed Internet access ranged from federal, state and local government agencies to schools, churches and local relief organizations. Small businesses such as gas stations and convenience stores, and larger businesses such as insurance companies, financial institutions, and media organizations also used satellite capacity to stay in business.

One example you may have heard about earlier today was the satellite communications networks that helped Wal-Mart become one of the “life-support systems” for the local communities during the recovery. Both satellite radio and TV providers dedicated 24 hour channels to FEMA and the Red Cross for disseminating hurricane-related information including storm and evacuation routes, clean-up, road closures, school closings, and other vital information from the Federal Government. These are just a few examples of how satellite communications came to the aid of first responders, families, and businesses affected by the disaster.

Along the same lines, the satellite-based Global Positioning System, or GPS, proved to be indispensable during the relief and recovery operations following hurricanes of the 2005 season. Unaffected by weather conditions, GPS continued to provide accurate location information to rescue workers after entire neighborhoods were left unrecognizable. GPS allowed relief vessels to safely navigate into areas where ground-based navigation aids were no longer functioning.

Obviously, GPS has many applications beyond public safety. As the President recognized in a national policy directive, GPS is now a global utility whose multi-use services are integral to U.S. national security, economic growth, transportation safety, and homeland security, and are an essential element of the worldwide economic infrastructure. The widespread and growing dependence of military, civil, and commercial systems on GPS has made many of these systems inherently vulnerable to an unexpected interruption in positioning, navigation, and/or timing services. Within the business world, this includes GPS-based timing systems critical to the banking, financing, power, and telecommunications sectors.

As part of the implementation of the President’s policy, the Department of Homeland Security has been leading an interagency effort to develop a comprehensive plan for the detection and mitigation of interference to GPS and other space-based positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) systems. The Commerce Department, especially NTIA, has participated in the preparation of the plan and looks forward to participating in its implementation. We also want to encourage private sector businesses to develop contingency plans to back up critical operational dependencies on GPS with supplemental capabilities.

At the same time, the U.S. Government is upgrading the GPS constellation with new capabilities that will make it more robust against interference and enable continuity of service in a greater range of environments. Late last year, the Air Force launched the first next-generation GPS satellite featuring a new civilian signal called “L2C.” The next satellite is scheduled for launch early next week. In January, OSC co-hosted a public forum here at the Chamber celebrating L2C and the productivity benefits it will enable for a broad range of U.S. industries, from agribusiness to telecommunications. These benefits include reduced operational downtime in the field — that is, increased business continuity — as a result of the redundancy, increased power, and faster signal acquisition provided by the new signal. We also recently published an article in the trade press quantifying the economic benefits of L2C. Under the most likely scenario, we estimate the new GPS signal could enable over $5 billion in productivity benefits through the year 2030.

L2C is just the first of many new civilian upgrades that the U.S. Government is making to the GPS constellation over the next decade. A third civil signal will add robustness for safety-critical operations such as air navigation, and a fourth signal will enhance interoperability with Europe’s Galileo system, bringing massive benefits for business continuity in the form of mutual backup and improved satellite reception in challenged environments such as urban canyons.

The third area I would like to address is commercial space-based remote sensing, which is the collection of Earth imagery from space by private sector firms. In 2003 the President authorized a national policy that established guidance and implementation actions for commercial remote sensing capabilities.

In disaster response and relief, the commercial space-based remote sensing industry has played a vital role in recent years, collecting tens of thousands of square miles of imagery for dissemination to aid workers around the globe. Following the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, commercial satellite imagery enabled the U.S. Government and other organizations to assist in damage assessments and rescue relief operations in highly remote areas that could only be observed by satellites. During the record hurricane season of 2005, satellite imagery contributed to the identification of damaged areas, the deployment of rescue and relief operations, and the planning efforts to rebuild Gulf Coast communities. For example, oil companies purchased commercial imagery to assess damage at their refineries, which had been completely evacuated, before sending in personnel to restart production.

Commercial satellite imagery is also used to help firefighters navigate wildfires by determining which residents should be evacuated, where emergency personnel should be dispatched and where fire lines should be constructed. Human rights groups also utilize commercial imagery around the globe to monitor and document events in places such as the Darfur region.

Today, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe are the two companies leading the U.S. space-based commercial remote sensing industry and within a year, both companies will launch new commercial imaging systems with far greater capabilities than the current systems on orbit. The enhanced level of accuracy of data derived from these systems will enable new applications and keep U.S. industry at the forefront of the increasingly competitive global market for satellite imagery.

Satellite imagery is most useful when combined with GPS, electronic maps, and localized data into a geographic information system (GIS). Perhaps the most popular example of this is the Google Earth (TM) application. This and other internet-based mapping portals have brought satellite imagery “down to Earth” and have increased public awareness of space-based imagery across the globe.

GIS capabilities represent an important component of the U.S. economic infrastructure and benefit a wide range of industries. The national policy directs the Department of Commerce to work with other Federal agencies to determine which civil needs can be met by commercial remote sensing space capabilities and communicate those requirements to the industry. In response to the policy, my office, working closely with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has organized a public forum on October 19th to increase awareness of current and emerging GIS capabilities for U.S. civil agencies. The Deputy Secretary of Commerce is confirmed as the keynote speaker. Senior executives from major corporations will speak on development and use of GIS capabilities. U.S. civil agency senior officials will speak on their GIS requirements and any challenges they are currently facing, and U.S. policy makers will discuss their role in creating and implementing policy and acquisition of GIS capabilities. We hope to see you all back here at the Chamber on October 19th.

Finally, I’d like to take a little time to talk about NOAA and the agency’s role in helping businesses and families before, during, and after an emergency. Over 105 million U.S. households rely on NOAA’s weather and environment forecast each day. NOAA, one of the nation’s leaders in environmental space-based systems, commands a fleet of meteorological satellites, including the GOES and POES systems. These satellites are on duty 24 hours a day to support forecasting and prediction services like the National Weather Service that are so critical to our economic and national interests.

For example, NOAA’s five-day hurricane forecasts, which utilize satellite data, are as accurate today as its three-day forecasts were 10 years ago. The additional advanced notice has a significant positive effect on many sectors of our economy. Accurate five-day forecasts for hurricanes can provide the time necessary for people to implement plans to secure their lives and businesses. These forecasts can save the offshore oil and gas industry significant amounts of money by helping determine if and when operational systems should be taken off-line. These accurate forecasts can also help the fishing industry by providing enough time to get boats and equipment to a safe harbor.

Future planned capabilities will provide increased observational capacity. These new satellites will provide significantly improved information to the user community, including large and small businesses, meteorologists, first responders, and federal, state, and local government agencies.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention my boss’s favorite initiative, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS. In order to address the growing requirements for environmental data on national and global scales, NOAA, NASA, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) are leading the implementation of the Strategic Plan for the US Integrated Earth Observing System, through the U.S. Group on Earth Observations (USGEO). The U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System is an essential component of GEOSS, which is a global Earth data collection and dissemination initiative to benefit worldwide stakeholders and decision-makers. GEOSS will allow users to share, compare and analyze a diverse array of datasets, providing the information necessary to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards. GEOSS will provide the global information required to understand the interactions between Earth processes and, thereby, improve the forecasting skills of a wide range of natural phenomena, such as the impact of El Nino throughout the globe. GEOSS will also promote improved decision-making in various sectors, including natural resource management, public health and safety, agriculture and transportation. As the global economy becomes ever more integrated, GEOSS will provide businesses the resources to make both preventative and real-time decisions that impact the bottom line.

To summarize, space-based capabilities are critical to continuity of business before, during, and after man-made and natural disasters. In as much as business and the public rely on accurate weather forecasts for critical decisions; they also rely on the unique capabilities of space-based systems like SATCOM, GPS, and remote sensing to respond to unplanned events.

I find events like these to be very beneficial and we hope to see you all at the Chamber on October 19th for the GIS Forum. Additionally, we look forward to your inputs to the Office’s draft Strategic Plan.

I’d like to thank the Washington Space Business Roundtable again for inviting me to speak today, I would be happy to answer a few questions.