A $297.6 million contract has been awarded
to Raytheon Company, Santa
Barbara Remote Sensing Group of Santa Barbara, Calif., to develop
an advanced operational environmental satellite sensor that will
significantly improve weather forecasting and climate prediction
as part of an interagency program to make government less costly,
more efficient and more responsive to public needs, Commerce
Secretary Norman Y. Mineta
announced today.

Mineta said the new instrument is part
of the Administration’s National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental
Satellite System (NPOESS)
program, which will become operational later this year, and will
save the taxpayers about $1.8 billion over its lifetime. The
savings will accrue as a result of the administration’s initiative
to combine the nation’s military and civilian environmental satellite
programs into a single, national system that will satisfy both
civil and national security requirements for space-based remotely-sensed
environmental data.

"This program marks the most significant
change in U.S. operational remote sensing since the launch of
the first weather satellite in 1960," he said, adding that
the program heralds a "new unified path for the United States
in the development, acquisition, management and operation of
environmental satellites.

"These satellite instruments will
improve short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate prediction,"
Mineta said. "In this way, they will touch all of our lives
and will ultimately benefit all sectors of our society, including
families across the country, the scientific community, the private
sector, and the business community."

The contract to Raytheon’s Santa Barbara
Remote Sensing Group is for a Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer
Suite (VIIRS), an advanced, high-spatial resolution imaging instrument
to be flown aboard the nation’s environmental satellites of the
future. VIIRS will provide high-accuracy radiometric measurements
of reflected sunlight in multiple spectral bands within the visible-to-thermal
infrared range to determine sea surface temperature, cloud cover,
atmospheric aerosols, soil wetness, surface albedo, vegetation
index, snow cover, sea ice, and ocean color. VIIRS will continue
the high-resolution cloud imaging and visual, nighttime low light
imaging capabilities of the Defense
Meteorological Satellite Program
spacecraft to support the
operational needs of the Department
of Defense
, as well as the civil applications of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric

The contract was awarded November 20 by
the tri-agency Integrated Program Office, which consists of components
of the Department of Commerce’s
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department
of Defense, and the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration
. The contract, which encompasses
design and fabrication of the new visible/infrared imager, totals
approximately $297.6 million, including options, and will run
through 2015, if all options are exercised. The contract effort
will ultimately produce up to eight VIIRS units that will use
advanced radiometric technologies at high spatial resolution
to accurately image and measure atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial
parameters. The more accurate VIIRS measurements are expected
to yield significant improvements in the skill of short-to-long
range weather forecasts and long-term climate predictions.

The first VIIRS unit will be flown on the
NPOESS Preparatory Project mission, a joint effort between the
NPOESS Integrated Program Office and NASA. The NPP mission will
provide an early opportunity, beginning in late 2005, to test
and evaluate VIIRS prior to the launch of the first operational
NPOESS spacecraft, as well as test the ground-based data processing
systems and demonstrate the utility of the improved imaging and
radiometric data in short-term weather nowcasting and forecasting
and in other oceanic and terrestrial applications, such as harmful
algal blooms, volcanic ash, and wildfire detection. Of equal
importance, NPP will ensure continuity of advanced imaging and
radiometric data by "bridging" between the NASA Earth Observing
research missions (EOS-Terra and Aqua) early in this
decade and the NPOESS operational missions that will begin late
in the decade. The remaining VIIRS units will be flown on the
operational NPOESS spacecraft.

In 1999, contracts were awarded to Ball
Aerospace & Technologies Corporation of Boulder, Colo., for
the development and fabrication of an Ozone Mapping and Profiler
Suite instrument to improve the accuracy of Earth’s ozone measurements
and to ITT Industries, ITT Aerospace/Communications Division
of Ft. Wayne, Ind., for the development and fabrication of a
Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) to provide high spectral
resolution measurements of the vertical distribution of temperature,
moisture, and pressure in the atmosphere. Contracts were also
awarded in 1999 to Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space of Sunnyvale,
Calif., and TRW Space and Electronics Group of Redondo Beach,
Calif., for preliminary system design and data processing demonstrations

"With the award of the VIIRS contract,
the NPOESS program is well along the path to creating a high
performance, integrated polar satellite system that will cost
less, be more responsive to user demands, and deliver more capability
than those in use today," said John D. Cunningham, who is
system program director of the NPOESS Integrated Program Office.
An additional contract will be awarded in 2001 for development
and fabrication of an advanced microwave imaging and sounding
sensor for NPOESS. The NPOESS sensor suites will deliver higher
resolution and more accurate atmospheric, oceanographic, terrestrial,
and solar-geophysical data to support improved accuracy in short-term
weather forecasts and warnings and severe storm warnings, as
well as serve the data continuity requirements of the climate
community for improved climate prediction and assessment and
environmental monitoring.

1994 Presidential Decision Directive

that established the NPOESS Integrated Program Office charged
NOAA with overall responsibility for the converged system, as
well as satellite operations and interactions with the civil
and international user communities. The Department of Defense
has the lead agency responsibility for major systems acquisitions,
including launch support. NASA has primary responsibility for
facilitating the development and incorporation of new cost-effective
technologies into the converged system. Representatives from
NOAA, DOD, and NASA participated in the NPOESS VIIRS source selection,
which was held in Silver Spring, Maryland.