Air Force Seeks Info on Space Weather Sensor

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has issued a request for information for a space environment sensor that would operate as a secondary payload aboard a proposed next-generation weather satellite.

In a June 16 posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the service said it was seeking industry feedback on likely capabilities, costs and risks on a sensor to measure energetic charged particles aboard the Weather Satellite Follow-on program. Responses are due July 16.

The Weather Satellite Follow-on, the Air Force’s designated replacement for its Defense Meteorological Satellite System, will consist of a single satellite carrying two or three instruments that would launch into sun-synchronous orbit in 2021 or 2022. The program is expected to cost about $856 million, according to Air Force budget documents.

The Air Force will rely on the next-generation satellite to fill three main data requirements: ocean-surface wind speed and direction, tropical cyclone intensity, and information on charged particles in space with the potential to affect low-orbiting satellites.

The first two measurements could be taken using the same microwave payload, according to Air Force documents. The service issued a request for information for that instrument in February.

The sensor described in the June 16 request for information would measure about 13 centimeters by 20 centimeters, weigh less than 4 kilograms and have a design life of about 12 years.

In a recent analysis of alternatives, the Air Force ranked the ability to monitor charged particles from space as its 11th highest weather priority and said the capability will be needed by 2021.

In March, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James signed a memo requiring all new satellites that have not yet completed their final design phase to include an energized charged particle sensor. Data from those sensors would feed into the Joint Space Operations Center, the Defense Department’s nerve center for military space operations.

The Air Force’s rapid-response space development shop, known as the Operationally Responsive Space Office, will manage the Weather Satellite Follow-on program. The Air Force requested $76 million for the effort in 2016, but spending bills proposed in the House and Senate are recommending only $56 million and $21 million, respectively.