WASHINGTON — NASA will rely on an instrument hosted aboard a commercial geostationary communications satellite to continue some of the long-running Earth-system observations the agency took over from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in April, the head of NASA’s Earth Science Division said here Oct. 29.

“Our approach is going to be to procure new [Total Solar Irradiance Sensor] instruments and to launch them, almost undoubtedly, as hosted payloads,” Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, told a National Academies panel Oct. 29.

The instrument would be delivered to its host by Sept. 30, 2019, Freilich told the academies’ Space Studies Board’s Standing Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space. It would launch around 2021, according to slides he presented. Freilich said the arrangement would be modeled after the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution mission — a $90 million Earth Venture Instrument mission slated to become the division’s first commercially hosted payload when it launches around 2017. NASA has not identified a host satellite yet, Freilich said.

NASA will start examining its options for Total Solar Irradiance Sensor hosts in 2014, Freilich said. The agency will wait until 2015 to give the instrument’s builder, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the go-ahead to begin development of the geo-hosted sensor, which would be the second of its kind to fly in space. The first Total Solar Irradiance Sensor would fly on NOAA’s Polar Free Flyer, which is set to launch in 2017. An early engineering model of this instrument, known as the TSI Calibration Transfer Experiment, is set to launch Nov. 19 as a hosted payload on the Air Force’s STPSat-3. The military satellite is launching aboard a Minotaur 1 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Janet Nickloy, director of strategy and business development at Harris Corp.’s Government Com-

munications business unit and chairwoman of the Hosted Payload Alliance, said NASA “certainly appears to be leaning forward on hosted payloads more aggressively than other government agencies.

“Their missions tend to be more conducive to hosting” than Defense Department missions, Nickloy told SpaceNews Nov. 1. “A single sensor versus a constellation is sufficient in many cases, and the resource requirements are moderate.”

As part of the White House’s plan to keep NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program on schedule to launch the next generation of U.S. civil polar-orbiting weather satellites beginning in 2017, the administration’s 2014 budget request relieved the weather agency of responsibility for collecting certain solar and atmospheric data — solar irradiance, ozone profiles, and Earth radiation balance — that have become part of the U.S. climate record.

NOAA had planned to gather these data with three instruments: the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor, the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite, and the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System. These would have flown on JPSS satellites, or on so-called Free Flyer spacecraft, which were excised from the JPSS program in the 2014 budget request. Free Flyers were managed under the JPSS program because they were to carry instruments originally manifested for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite Systems, a joint civil-military program whose 2010 cancellation prompted NOAA and NASA to build JPSS and the Air Force to dust off a pair of Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft built in the 1990s.

NASA has not only been charged with collecting the data these instruments were designed to gather, but to do it at a fraction of what NOAA estimated the job would cost.

The administration “generously gave us $40 million in one year to do that,” said Freilich, who pointed out that NOAA estimates for the suite of instruments to collect this data ranged from $200 million to $300 million.

In addition to a hosted payload arrangement for a Total Solar Irradiance Sensor, NASA has also started making arrangements for continuing the types of Earth observations that were to be carried out by the other instruments dropped from the JPSS program.

For ozone measurements, NASA plans to order another copy of the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite instrument from Boulder-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. The agency is reviewing a sole-source bid it received from Ball, Freilich said. Procurement is expected to begin in November, and delivery of the instrument is expected by Sept. 30, 2018. NASA plans to fly the instrument on NOAA’s JPSS-2, which would launch in 2022. 

Some assembly and disassembly will be required to carry out that plan. The Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite includes two instruments, only one of which needs to make it onto JPSS-2, Freilich said. NOAA would buy the whole suite from Ball and NASA would pay to have one of the instruments, called Limb, removed from and mounted on JPSS-2. The suite’s other main components — the downward-looking Nadir instrument and the Main Electronics Box — will fly on JPSS-1.

The Limb instrument, which views Earth at an angle to make high-resolution vertical profile measurements of ozone in the lower stratosphere and troposphere, is “low cost,” Freilich said. 

“I’m talking a handful of tens of millions of dollars, not even $25 million,” he said. “The easiest thing to do is build it, bolt it, fly it with the NOAA JPSS-2.”

Meanwhile, NASA will rely on open competition to continue radiation measurements that were to be handled under the JPSS program by the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System, or CERES, payload. 

The earliest versions of this instrument were made by TRW Space and Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., which in 2002 was acquired by Northrop Grumman. A pair of CERES instruments flew to space aboard the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission in 1997. Two more are aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, which launched in 1999, and NOAA’s Suomi NPP, launched in 2011, carries another. The instrument studies how much solar radiation is reflected by clouds above Earth, and how much energy Earth itself radiates out into space. The measurements are useful for long-term weather forecasts — those that look 10 days ahead or more. 

As with the ozone measurements it is obligated to continue, NASA plans to get its radiation measurements from JPSS-2. The satellite will now include a so-called Radiation Budget Instrument, which is similar to the instrument NOAA planned to fly, Freilich said.

NASA put out a solicitation for the Radiation Budget Instrument in June. The instrument will have to last seven years on orbit and be delivered by 2020  for integration with JPSS-2, according to Freilich’s slides.

“Those proposals are in hand and being evaluated right now, and we’ll see how they work out,” Freilich said.

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Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...