Harris AVHRR
These are temperature and moisture profiles drawn from the Harris-built Cross track Infrared Sounder on the Joint Polar Satellite System. Credit: Harris

COLORADO SPRINGS – As the competition for the U.S. Air Force next generation weather satellite heats up, Harris Corp. is highlighting the virtues of an updated version of its legacy sensor, the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR).

“We have been trying to help the Air Force meet its mission needs for cloud characterization and theater weather imagery for the specific orbit the Air Force needs,” said Eric Webster, Harris Environmental Solutions vice president for business development.

The Air Force has two weather sensor initiatives underway. Under the first one, known as Operationally Responsive Space-8, the service plans to award a contract in 2018 for a small weather satellite to launch around 2022. Under a separate program, Weather Satellite Follow-on electro optical infrared, or WSF-E, the Air Force is expected to spend approximately $450 million on a satellite to begin flying in the early morning orbit in 2024 and associated ground systems.

In 2013, the Air Force awarded Harris a contract worth about $13 million to enhance AVHRR’s ability to monitor clouds and gather theater weather imagery. Harris has built 19 AVHRR sensors for U.S. and international customers. For the updated version, Harris kept the basic AVHRR architecture, including the size and structure, but redesigned components.

“It has new detectors, focal planes and electronics based on the designs of our most recent instruments for NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others,” Webster told SpaceNews. The new Harris sensor is “about the size of a roll-on suitcase, yet still very capable,” he added.

Through the ORS-8 mission, the Air Force will have an opportunity to demonstrate a new sensor and determine whether it fulfills the requirements for WSF-E, Webster said.

“Our sensor solution along with the bus and launch fits well within the Air Force budget,” Webster said. “Our understanding is some of the other options would be much more expensive.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...