WASHINGTON — Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif. will study options for a low-cost U.S. military weather satellite replacement system under a six-month, $1 million contract with the U.S. Air Force, the company announced March 28.

According to a press release, the company will examine alternative satellite architectures and equipping commercial satellites with advanced meteorological sensors. Specifically, Space Systems/Loral will examine a commercial approach to gathering weather data from satellites operating in a highly inclined, or polar, elliptical orbit, the release said.

Space Systems/Loral, which specializes in building commercial telecommunications satellites, built the original satellite constellation for Sirius Satellite Radio, a system with a unique design featuring satellites in highly elliptical orbit.

Space Systems/Loral also is a subsidiary of MDA, Canada’s largest space-hardware prime contractor. MDA has been under contract to the Canadian government to study the Polar Communications and Weather mission, a project featuring two satellites operating in a highly elliptical polar orbit. The Canadian government is looking for financial partners on the $580 million project, which is designed to provide services in the Arctic region.

Space Systems/Loral “can bring the benefits of a shared platform to both its commercial and government customers,” David Anhalt, Space Systems/Loral’s vice president of U.S. government solutions, said in a statement. “We commend the Air Force and SMC for its leadership in looking to alternative architectures in order to reduce costs and speed the delivery of next generation systems.”

SMC refers to the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, which buys military space hardware.

Space Systems/Loral’s contract was awarded under a broad agency announcement the Air Force issued in June 2012. The service plans to request funding in 2015 for full-scale development of the system, intended to replace the legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites, of which the service has just two remaining.

In January, the Air Force announced that ITT Exelis Geospatial Systems of Fort Wayne, Ind., will study sensor options for the follow-on weather satellite system under a $12 million contract. According to a Feb. 25 Air Force press release, that study will look at a new sensor, the Enhanced Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer, which would provide broad-area environmental data and high-quality cloud imagery.

In December, the Air Force awarded study contracts for the program to ATK Space Systems and the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory valued at $5.9 million and $9.4 million, respectively.

Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...