Brandywine Photonics conducts design study of constellation of hundreds of small weather satellites

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SAN FRANCISCO – Brandywine Photonics is conducting a design study for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of a constellation of more than 200 small weather satellites.

Under the six-month, $60,000 study contract scheduled to be completed in October, Brandywine Photonics is evaluating the satellites, sensors and orbits required to provide a comprehensive picture of atmospheric and space weather conditions with a constellation it calls MetNet, short for Meteorological Network.

“The goal of MetNet is to portray all things weather everywhere all the time,” John Fisher, president of Brandywine Photonics, a small business based in Exton, Pennsylvania, told SpaceNews.

The proposed MetNet constellation includes hundreds of small satellites equipped with a electro-optical and microwave instruments to provide frequent observations of wind speed, atmospheric temperature, humidity, precipitation, sea surface temperature, cloud properties, upper atmosphere dynamics and space weather

Brandywine Photonics proposes mounting instruments on ESPA and ESPA-Grande satellites, which weigh roughly 220 and 322 kilograms, respectively. ESPA stands for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Secondary Payload Adapter.

“We are firm believers in the Space 2.0 approach, which is fly fast and fly often in proliferated low Earth orbit constellations,” Fisher said. “Build things quickly and affordably. If you don’t succeed 100% with the first launch, then fly again quickly.”

Since April, NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service has awarded dozens of contracts for studies of instruments, spacecraft, business models and mission concepts as explores concepts for the space-based architecture to succeed the Joint Polar Satellite System and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R series.

In addition to the ongoing NOAA study contract, Brandywine Photonics is developing weather instruments and proposing constellation architectures under NOAA and Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards.

The Air Force awarded Brandywine Photonics a $1.5 million SBIR contract in 2018 for a two-year effort to develop Theater Weather Imaging and Cloud Characterization Sensor (TWICCS). TWICCS is a multispectral imager to discriminate ground fog from dust and smoke in addition to observing cloud phases and cloud-top temperatures with observations from the visible to the long-wave infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, according to the SBIR website.

In 2019, the Air Force awarded Brandywine Photonics an addition $3 million to expand on TWICCS to meet the government’s requirements for image resolution and revisit rates.

The Defense Department determined in 2013 that its most critical unmet needs for weather information involve observations of weather in military theaters and clouds. That information has been provided by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program for decades. The final satellites in that series are nearing the end of their lives.

The U.S. Space and Missile Systems Center announced awards in June of three Other Transaction Authority agreements with a combined value of $309 million to Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates, General Atomics and Raytheon Technologies to develop prototype weather satellites to characterize clouds globally and observe weather in military theaters.

Under another 2019 Air Force phase two SBIR contract worth nearly $750,000, Brandywine Photonics is developing an instrument to measure atmospheric temperature and moisture in addition to monitoring winds in three dimensions called Compact Hyperspectral Infrared Sounding Instrument.

Under a 2018 NOAA SBIR, Brandywine Photonics began developing Doppler Wind Temperature Sounder, an instrument to measure wind and temperature at altitudes from 20 to 200 kilometers.