By Irene Klotz


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Thursday awarded its first contracts to buy weather data from commercial satellite operators, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.


NOAA chose privately owned GeoOptics Inc of Pasadena, California and San Francisco-based Spire Global Inc to participate in a trial program to supplement data from U.S. civilian weather satellites with commercially provided alternatives.


GeoOptics’ contract is worth $695,000. Spire’s is for $370,000.


NOAA is turning to private companies to test if the agency can improve its weather forecasts and warnings by adding environmental data from commercial satellites. NOAA manages the nation’s fleet of civilian weather satellites.


“This is the first NOAA purchase of space-based, commercial weather data for the purpose of data demonstration,” NOAA spokesman John Leslie said.

GeoOptics and Spire have until April 30 to deliver data to NOAA from their satellite constellations. Both networks detect weather systems by measuring variations in how GPS radio signals cut through the atmosphere, a technique known as radio occultation.

In a statement, NOAA said the trial run is "a necessary first step to considering sustained operational use of new commercial weather data."

A report on the project is expected in early 2018.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Bill Rigby)