WASHINGTON — Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems outlasted all would-be competitors to win a $250 million NASA contract to modernize an Earth science data-handling system two decades and nearly $2.5 billion in the making.

Several companies — including Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. — considered bidding for the latest follow-on contract for the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), which Raytheon has spent nearly 17 years helping NASA build and maintain. But by the time proposals came due last September, only Raytheon submitted a bid, industry sources said.

It therefore came as no surprise to Raytheon’s Riverdale, Md.-based team when NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in nearby Greenbelt, Md., announced April 1 that it had picked Raytheon for the EOSDIS Evolution and Development contract. The cost-plus contract runs for five years and calls for Raytheon to develop and maintain the software and hardware systems that collect, store, retrieve and process the thousand-plus gigabytes of imagery and other data NASA’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites transmit daily.

NASA spokeswoman Sonja Alexander said in a written statement that the contract will be used to update obsolete components and add capacity to the EOSDIS Core System as the agency’s data holdings grow.

“In addition, we will continue to enhance EOSDIS services, making it easier for users and systems to discover and access EOS data,” she said.

Since being pressed into duty in 1999 to handle the data from NASA’s Landsat 7 and Terra environmental missions, EOSDIS has amassed an archive containing 4.2 petabytes of data — a digital collection some 430 times larger than the printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress — with more than a terabyte of new information arriving every day.

Alexander said EOSDIS served over 910,000 distinct users worldwide in 2009 through a dozen NASA data centers throughout the United States supporting 87 different Earth science instruments. The EOSDIS Core System is deployed at three of those so-called Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs), specifically the Land Processes DAAC in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Atmospheric Science Data Center at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.

Tim Ortiz, Raytheon’s EOSDIS Evolution and Development program manager, said April 7 it is not entirely clear how much data NASA’s Earth Observing System will be transmitting in the decade ahead. But he said it is possible that  technological advances will contribute to a 50 percent increase in the amount of data entering and exiting the system.

After winning the EOSDIS Core System prime contract in 1993, Raytheon struggled alongside NASA to implement the hugely ambitious project. Since 2003, Raytheon has kept the system running under an EOS Maintenance and Development contract currently transitioning to Raytheon’s new $250 million contract.

In the past year, Raytheon has overseen the transition of the EOSDIS archive from magnetic storage tape to more modern hard drives. Ortiz said the upgrade saves money because hard drives do not deteriorate like tape does, take up less space and require less cooling and energy than an automated tape-based archiving and retrieval system. “The electric bills are higher when you use tape,” Ortiz said.

Prominent on Raytheon’s to-do list under the new contract is completing the integration of the Earth Observing System Clearing House, a NASA-developed, Internet-accessible data registry Raytheon inherited during the past year. “It is now the front-end interface for users to browse the holdings,” Ortiz said. “They are very interested in making that a highly adaptable and very efficient client interface.”

Ortiz said the EOSDIS Evolution and Development contract will employ about 70 people at Raytheon and its subcontractors, with the majority of the work performed at Raytheon’s Riverdale facility.

Subcontractors on the project include: Plano, Texas-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services; Vangent Inc. of Arlington, Va.; Science Systems and Applications Inc. of Lanham, Md.; Applied Technology Institute of Riva, Md.; Fairfield Technologies Inc. of Chantilly, Va.; and Maryland Hawk Corp. of Princess Anne, Md.

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...