NASA has picked Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. to build the primary instrument for the next Landsat land-imaging satellite, the U.S. space agency announced July 16.

Under the $127.9 million cost-plus-award fee contract, the Boulder, Colo.-based company will work with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to develop the Operational Land Imager (OLI) instrument for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), which is slated to launch no earlier than July 2011.

The instrument is designed to capture images of the world’s land masses in the visible and near-infrared spectra, adding to a database that dates back more than

30 years.

“OLI for us was a must win and it will be a major program for us,” Ball Aerospace President Dave Taylor said in a July 18 interview.

Taylor said the company also hopes to build the LDCM spacecraft bus.

NASA currently has four companies studying the bus requirements

and intends to seek bids later this summer.

Only one other company bid for the instrument work:

ITT Industries Inc.

Like Ball, the Ft. Wayne, Ind.-based company’s interest in building the sensor dates back to its involvement in NASA’s ultimately aborted 2003 effort to

commercialize the collection and distribution

of Landsat-type imagery. ITT was on the Digital Globe team as the instrument-builder. Ball would have built the spacecraft bus.

Ball’s role was bigger on the Resource 21 team

. Had Resource 21 won, Ball would have built both the bus and instrument.

But Digital Globe ultimately opted not to bid, and NASA’s flirtation with commercialization ended when it rejected the lone offer it received from Resource 21.

Soon after the U.S. space agency set its sights on migrating the collection of Landsat imagery to the U.S. National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System.

By early 2006, that plan was scrapped in favor of buying a free-flying satellite to continue the collection of Landsat imagery. Ball, which had been closely tracking NASA’s instrument-only acquisition plan, quickly adjusted course and trotted out a fixed-price proposal for the complete mission.

NASA was heading in the fixed-price direction until U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) weighed in last summer, pressuring the agency to alter its acquisition strategy to put Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., more firmly in charge of the project.

Despite all the changes, Ball stayed in the hunt.

“We’ve been pursuing it very aggressively through all the phases all the ups and downs and variations,” Taylor said. “It’s been a long road and we’re obviously happy to have gotten where

we’ve gotten.”

The contract calls for Ball to design, develop, fabricate and integrate one flight-ready Operational Land Imager and provide five years of on-orbit support for the instrument.

Five one-year option periods could keep Ball supporting the instrument through 2021.

The Landsat Data Continuity Mission is being developed to replace the old and ailing Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 spacecraft, which are not expected to last through the end of this


NASA’s selection of Ball to build the instrument follows the U.S. space agency’s May award of roughly $1 million worth of study contracts to four companies vying to build the LDCM spacecraft platform.

In addition to Ball, NASA awarded spacecraft suitability study contracts to General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, Gilbert, Ariz.; Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va.; and Space Systems/Loral, Palo Alto, Calif.

NASA is expected to select its spacecraft contractor this fall once the studies wrap up.

NASA is procuring the satellite and instrument on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey, which will operate the spacecraft once it is in orbit.