Exelis Nabs Contracts for NASA, JAXA Climate Sensors

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Exelis Geospatial Systems nabbed a pair of contracts, one of them potentially worth more than $200 million, to provide climate-monitoring sensors for NASA and the Japanese space agency, JAXA.

According to a May 16 NASA press release, the Rochester, New York-based company will build the Radiation Budget Instrument that will fly on the Joint Polar Satellite System 2 weather satellite, tentatively slated to launch in 2021. The cost-plus-award-fee contract, with a maximum potential value of $208 million, includes options for as many as two additional sensors, plus associated parts and support, NASA said.

The Radiation Budget Instrument is a scanning radiometer that will measure Earth’s reflected sunlight, an important variable in climate research. The sensor will replace the measurements that since 1998 have been gathered by the Northrup Grumman-built Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy Systems instruments, NASA said.

Separately, Exelis announced May 21 it had won a contract from JAXA to supply the main sensor for the Greenhouse Gas Observing Satellite (Gosat)-2 satellite, which is slated to launch in 2018. Gosat-2 is the follow on to the Gosat satellite that launched in 2009 as part of Japan’s effort to monitor compliance with the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

The Exelis-built instrument is dubbed the Thermal and Near Infrared Sensor for carbon Observation-Fourier Transform Spectrometer. It will measure the density of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Exelis said.

Chris Young, president of Exelis Geospatial Systems, said the main sensor for the first Gosat satellite was built by NEC Corp. of Japan.

Exelis spokesman Jared Adams declined to provide the value of the JAXA contract.

In an interview here at the 30th Space Symposium, Young said both of the newly ordered sensors are based on Exelis’ experience developing weather instruments for U.S. government satellite programs, including the Advanced Baseline Imager and the Cross Track Infrared Sounder.

“Always our strategy is to reuse what we can of our instruments to keep costs low,” Young said.

Exelis has seven variants of the Advanced Baseline Imager under contract, four for the U.S. government’s primary geostationary weather satellite program, two for Japan and one for South Korea.

Exelis also recently completed a pair of “analysis of alternatives” studies in support of the U.S. Defense Department’s effort to develop a new polar-orbiting weather satellite. One focused on a contribution of two Advanced Baseline Imagers to a proposed Canadian elliptical-orbit system for weather and communications coverage of the Arctic, the other on a variant of the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) that would fly aboard a small polar-orbiting satellite. The latter sensor has flown on U.S. civilian polar-orbiting weather satellites.

The U.S. Air Force requested $39 million for next year to pursue the small-satellite Weather System Follow on option, which could present an opportunity for Exelis based on its AVHRR study. But the outlook for that program is murky: The Pentagon has yet to sign off on final requirements for the satellite, and draft legislation approved recently by the House Armed Services Committee would divert the lion’s share of the requested funding to competitively procure a launch for the last of the Air Force’s legacy weather satellites.

Currently the Air Force has no firm plans to launch the Defense Meteorological Support Program 20 satellite, which was built in the 1990s. The draft legislation, if approved, would mean United Launch Alliance and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. would square off for the right to launch the spacecraft.

ULA holds an $11 billion sole-source contract to produce 36 launch vehicle cores to the Air Force. The Air Force plans to make competitive launch contract awards in the next year or so, but recently reduced the number from 14 to seven or eight.

Industry sources here said the DMSP-20 satellite has been targeted in the House bill as the eighth of those competitively awarded missions.

 

Staff writer Mike Gruss contributed to this report.