The world’s three largest space companies each submitted bids by the March 11 deadline to build the spacecraft for the next generation of U.S. geostationary weather satellites – a deal whose value could exceed $1 billion if all the options are exercised.

Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale Calif., and Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., each submitted proposals to NASA last week for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) contract that includes two spacecraft with options for two more.

The GOES-R satellite series represents a continuing evolution of the United States’ ability to monitor and predict

weather and meteorological phenomena. It is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program, but NASA is acting as the contracting authority for the spacecraft contract.

GOES-R will not be as technologically advanced as originally planned. After estimated lifecycle costs had ballooned to $11 billion by 2006, the program was downsized from four satellites to two and an advanced sounding instrument for taking vertical temperature and humidity profiles was nixed. NOAA’s 2009 budget request now projects a lifecycle cost of $7.6 billion.

For this generation of weather satellites, NOAA decided to acquire the spacecraft, the ground segment and the instruments separately. With the contract for the Geostationary Lightning Mapper instrument going to Lockheed Martin in December 2007, all of the GOES-R instruments are now under contract.

The most technologically complex instrument to build is the Advanced Baseline Imager that ITT Corp. has been working on since being awarded a $359 million contract in 2004. That instrument will provide

data about the Earth’s radiation. It will be able to scan the entire globe in around five minutes, about six times faster than the current capability.

NOAA says data from the Advanced Baseline Imager can be combined with atmospheric measurements taken by weather balloons to make up for the satellites’ lack of a sounding instrument. The data will only be about as good as the data the current satellites provide.

If the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite was still on board, the data might have been several orders of magnitude better than the current data, said Greg Mandt, the GOES-R program office director.

ITT is well within the schedule, having completed a critical design review last year and on pace to complete a prototype instrument by 2009, Mandt said.

Submissions to a draft request for proposals for the ground segment were due March 8, and a final version of the request will be issued in May before a prime contractor is selected in early 2009, Mandt said. Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., and Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., have announced their intentions to compete for the ground segment.

Boeing represents the incumbent for the spacecraft, having built three legacy satellites. GOES-N, now called GOES-13, was launched in May 2006. It is normally in storage mode but will operate in on-orbit mode until April 15 to perform a series of tests, NOAA spokesman John Leslie said. That satellite will eventually replace one of the two geostationary weather satellites operating above the east and west coasts of the United States.

GOES-O is in ground storage at Boeing and is currently slated to launch Nov. 5 on a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket, Leslie said. GOES-P

also is complete and in storage awaiting launch in April 2010.

Boeing Satellite Systems President Stephen O’Neill said he is optimistic of his company’s chances to win given its history with the program.

“To the best of our knowledge, both NOAA and NASA are extremely pleased with the in-orbit performance of GOES-13 and with the readiness of both GOES-O and GOES-P,” O’Neill said in an e-mail. “Boeing has manufactured more than 260 commercial and civil satellites that have achieved a total of 2,500 years of service.”

James Crocker, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for sensing and exploration systems, emphasized that his company’s long history of building these types of satellites is what puts Lockheed Martin in a good position to win this contract.

“We launched the first weather satellite for NASA in 1960, and we’ve now launched 99 environmental and weather satellites for NASA and NOAA,” Crocker said. “We built all of the DMSP [Defense Meteorological Satellites Program] satellites and we’ve built all of the Landsat satellites to date. This GOES-R opportunity is a natural one for us and we’ve been working extremely hard on it to continue our 48-year legacy.”

Crocker also said being an incumbent is not the advantage that it may seem because this series will make such a leap in technologies.

“The GOES-R satellite series is not a continuation of the GOES series,” he said. “It is a revolutionary capability. It will have four times the resolution, four times as many spectral bands and six times the scan rate.”

Northrop Grumman declined to comment on its bid other than to say it had submitted a bid to Goddard Space Flight Center

March 10.