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Full steam ahead for NOAA’s $20 billion GeoXO program

With the future Geostationary Extended Orbits constellation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to improve upon current visible and infrared imagery, and lightning mapping capabilities. Unlike previous generations of geostationary weather satellites, the GeoXO constellation also includes ocean-color and atmospheric-composition instruments. Credit: NOAA

DENVER – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is embarking on its largest procurement ever: the $19.6 billion Geostationary Extended Observations program.

The budget for the GeoXO program, approved in December, covers six satellites, operations and support extending from 2022 to 2052.

GeoXO is NOAA’s successor to the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series. Unlike the GOES-R constellation’s two-satellite architecture, though, GeoXO includes three satellites: one perched over the Eastern United States, another over the West and a third in the middle.

While NOAA prepares to launch the final satellite in the GOES-R series in 2024, the agency is moving full steam ahead with the GeoXO. In December, the Commerce Department approved baseline requirements, cost and schedule for the GeoXO program, Pam Sullivan, GeoXO program director, said Jan. 10 at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting here.

Later this month, NOAA plans to award contracts for GeoXO imagers and begin soliciting proposals for GeoXO sounders, Sullivan added.

In addition to improving upon GOES-R’s visible and infrared imagery and lightning mapping capabilities, GeoXO satellites will provide nighttime imagery, hyperspectral sounding and extensive information on ocean and atmospheric conditions.

“Data from GeoXO will contribute to weather forecast models and drive short-term weather forecasts and severe weather warnings,” NOAA said in a news release. “GeoXO will also detect and monitor environmental hazards like wildfires, smoke, dust, volcanic ash, drought, and flooding, providing advanced warning to decision-makers.”

Unlike in low Earth orbit where it makes sense to separate instruments on smaller spacecraft and spread out the constellation, an approach known as disaggregation, the GeoXO program will continue to group multiple instruments together.

“Because you’re staring from geostationary orbit, there’s no point in having 10 satellites in the same spot staring,” said Steve Volz, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services.

Prior to the Commerce Department’s approval of the GeoXO program to move into its implementation phase, NASA awarded contracts for GeoXO studies. (NASA oversees GeoXO satellite development. NOAA provides the funding, program management and operations.)

Lockheed Martin and Maxar won $5 million contracts in July to define the GeoXO spacecraft concept, mature related technologies and shed light on GeoXO satellite performance, risk, cost and schedule.

NASA awarded Ball Aerospace and Raytheon contracts in May, each valued at about $5 million, to perform definition-phase studies of the GeoXO atmospheric composition instrument.

Ball Aerospace and L3Harris won NASA contracts in 2021 worth approximately $8 million apiece to help define the GeoXO satellite sounders.

Raytheon and L3Harris also won contracts in 2021 valued at about $6 million each to conduct studies of the GeoXO imager.

NOAA launched the third of three satellites in the GOES-R series in March 2022. That satellite, which quickly moved into position as GOES West, is keeping taps on the Western United States, Mexico, Central America and the Pacific Ocean.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree...