ITT Exelis, Ball Win S. Korean Environmental Sensor Contracts

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UPDATED April 9, 8:41 p.m. EDT

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Two U.S. companies, ITT Exelis and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., have beaten out European competitors to provide environmental monitoring sensors for a pair of South Korean multipurpose satellites slated to launch in 2017 and 2018.

The Geo-Kompsat 2A and 2B satellites will carry a combined payload including communications transponders and environmental sensors.

Exelis of Rochester, N.Y., will supply a variant of its Advanced Baseline Imager for Geo-Kompsat 2A , scheduled for a 2017 launch, under a multimillion-dollar contract, the company said in an April 8 press release. The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) is the primary sensor for the U.S. government’s next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R program, whose first launch is slated for 2015.

The first flight-model ABI is in thermal vacuum testing, said Christopher D. Young, president of Exelis Geospatial Systems.

Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace, meanwhile, is in final negotiations to supply an atmospheric pollution sensor for the Geo-Kompsat 2B satellite that will launch in 2018, according to industry sources. The Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer is similar to an instrument being developed by Ball for NASA’s $90 million Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution mission, which is slated to fly as a hosted payload on an as yet unidentified commercial communications satellite in 2017.

Roz Brown, a spokeswoman for Ball Aerospace, declined to comment on the pending contract.

Both Ball and Exelis beat out competing bids from divisions of Europe’s Astrium space hardware and services company, according to industry officials.

Exelis is a longtime supplier of imaging sensors and sounders to the geostationary-orbiting weather satellites operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The sensors monitor general weather conditions and track severe storms.

The sensor being supplied for Geo-Kompsat 2A, called the Advanced Meteorological Imager, will provide five times the temporal resolution as the Exelis-built sensor currently operating on a South Korean satellite, with the ability to fully scan its coverage area in five minutes as opposed to 30. It will provide a spatial resolution of about 1 kilometer, which is twice as good as the existing sensor, Exelis said.

“Recent hurricanes and major storms have shown the critical role played by geo-imagers here in the United States,” Rob Mitrevski, an Exelis Geospatial Systems vice president, said in a prepared statement. “South Korea similarly has challenges with typhoons and other severe weather and will benefit greatly from this new geostationary imager.”

The contract with South Korea marks Exelis’ second overseas ABI sale. Japan is buying two variants of the sensor for its Himawari-8 and Himawari-9 satellites, slated to launch in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

In an interview here at the 29th National Space Symposium, Young said the next near-term overseas opportunity for the ABI sensor is Canada’s proposed dual-use Polar Communications and Weather system, which would consist of two satellites in highly elliptical polar orbits to maximize coverage of extreme northern latitudes.

Canada is interested in increased monitoring of that area, especially since more areas are opening up to maritime traffic for longer periods each year due to climate change, Young said. The U.S. Defense Department also is interested in the Canadian program to augment its weather coverage, he said.

Currently, the Pentagon has no firm program in place to replacing its aging Defense Meteorological Satellite System, for which it has only two satellites left to be launched.

The Canadian government has been studying the Polar Communications and Weather mission, estimated to cost around $580 million, but has yet to approve the investment. Young said if that mission goes forward, it represents an opportunity to sell two ABI sensors.

Young said he does not expect the Canadian opportunity to materialize before 2014.

Exelis is building four ABI sensors for the GOES-R program, one of which is an engineering and test unit that will not fly.