Ball and Raytheon win weather instrument study contracts

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SAN FRANCISCO — Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and Raytheon Intelligence & Space will begin developing technologies for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s next generation of geostationary weather satellites under contracts announced May 17.

Under the firm-fixed-price contracts awarded by NASA, NOAA’s partner for the acquisition, each company will receive approximately $5 million to perform a definition-phase study of the Atmospheric Composition instrument for the Geostationary Extended Observations program, called GeoXO.

In addition to monitoring terrestrial weather, NOAA’s GeoXO constellation, scheduled to begin launching in the early 2030s, will carry instruments to observe lightning, coastal ocean conditions and air quality. NOAA plans to operate GeoXO satellites over the Eastern and Western United States, like the current GOES-R series, plus a satellite over the center of the United States.

The Atmospheric Composition instrument, called ACX, will gather imagery from ultraviolet through visible spectral bands. Ball and Raytheon will have 20 months to define the instrument’s potential performance, risks, cost and development schedule. Based on the industry studies, NOAA will establish requirements for the ACX instrument implementation contract, which the agency plans to award in 2024.

From its perch over the central United States, ACX will gather extensive data on atmospheric chemicals and aerosols.

“One of those key measurements is going to be around air quality, which will inform us on the risk to our health and safety here on Earth,” Matt Magaña, Raytheon Space Systems deputy vice president, told SpaceNews. “It’s obviously critical to how we live our lives and the pollution that we have now created, and how we’re going to observe those in the future.”

Raytheon completed a design study last year of a high-resolution imager for the GeoXO constellation. After that, the company formed a team “to identify and characterize the new pollution threats, how we’re going to monitor them, how we’re advancing those observations to deliver a long tail of next generation Earth-observation instruments,” Magaña said.

Ball also is working on a definition Phase A study of a geostationary sounder for the GeoXO constellation. NASA awarded contracts valued at approximately $8 million apiece to Ball and to L3Harris in October.

Ball built the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, launched in 2011, and the first Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft launched in 2017. Meanwhile, Ball is manufacturing the Weather System Follow-On satellite for the U.S. Space Force and the company won a contract in 2020 to build, integrate and operate NOAA’s Space Weather Follow On satellite destined for Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 1.

Raytheon announced a $67 million contract in December from the Space Force to build a weather satellite to provide imagery of cloud cover and other data needed for military operations.

Raytheon also manufactures the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite flying on Suomi NPP and the first Joint Polar Satellite System as well as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA Terra and Aqua satellites.