— Harris Corp. bested competitor Raytheon Co. for a contract potentially worth $736 million to supply the ground segment for the next-generation
geostationary-orbiting weather satellite system, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced May 27.

The system will control NOAA’s planned Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) system as well as receive, process and disseminate the data the satellites collect. Slated to begin launching in 2015, the GOES-R satellites are expected to collect far more detailed information with greater frequency than the current-generation GOES satellites, allowing for more timely and accurate weather forecasts.

For the current generation of GOES satellites, the command and control, and data handling functions are divided among several contractors. These functions will be consolidated under the new contract, said Ray Thorpe, GOES-R vice president at Harris Corp. Based in
, Harris has a heritage of building complex ground systems for classified satellites, and the GOES-R ground segment is on par with those systems in terms of technological sophistication, Thorpe said in an interview.

The GOES-R satellites will be operated from the
, which will also be the data processing and dissemination site. The actual command link to the satellites is located on Wallops
Va. Development work will take place in the
area and in

GOES-R requires a new ground system because the satellites will deliver 40 times more data than the current GOES satellites produce, Thorpe said. The new system will deliver higher-resolution imagery and reduce the time between images of any given location from 30 minutes to five minutes under normal conditions, and from seven minutes to 30 seconds during periods of extreme weather.

The Harris design is an open architecture that will allow for additional satellites and sensors to be brought into the system in the future, Thorpe said. “One of the strengths of our offering was the flexibility, modularity and scalability to easily be modified to handle new sensors and data streams,” Thorpe said.

NOAA typically operates two GOES satellites, one each overlooking the East Coast and West Coast. Each satellite normally carries two main sensors: an imager for monitoring cloud formations and other conditions, and a sounder for taking vertical profiles of atmospheric temperature and humidity. The GOES-R satellites were originally planned to carry advanced versions of both, but the sounders were eliminated a few years ago to save money. On the initial GOES-R satellites NOAA plans to rely on the imagers for atmospheric data but has not ruled out adding the dedicated sounding capability to future platforms.

Harris’ entire GOES-R industry team will peak at around 300 employees, 100 of them being from Harris, Thorpe said. Harris’ industrial teammates on the effort are: Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc.; Boeing Mission Operations; Carr Astronautics; Honeywell Technology Solutions Inc.; Wyle Information Systems LLC; and Applied Research and Engineering Sciences.

Design work on the system is already under way, Harris spokesman Marc Raimondi said in an e-mailed response to questions. The current program schedule calls for an integrated baseline review in September, with a preliminary design review in January 2011, he said.

A potential complication to that schedule is the turmoil surrounding the GOES-R space segment procurement, which is being managed by NASA. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver in December won a $1.09 billion contract to build up to four GOES-R satellites, but the work was put on hold when losing bidder Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., protested the award to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In response, NASA re-evaluated the bids, and in early May awarded the contract again to Lockheed Martin. Boeing, in an unusual step, has since filed a second protest, once again halting work on the program.

“We suspect it might [affect the schedule], but we don’t have any details yet,” Thorpe said. “We will decide if we need to make any adjustments. We are working as we speak, and we’re prepared to meet the current schedule.”

Meanwhile, Raytheon spokesman Keith Little declined to say whether his company would protest the ground segment award. Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems,
, was the company sector competing for the contract.

“At this time, we are awaiting the NOAA debrief,” Little said. “Raytheon remains confident that we offer extremely relevant technologies and cost-effective, mission-focused environmental solutions that our customers need.”