WASHINGTON — A NASA solicitation for the ground element for the next Landsat satellite is generating strong interest among a number of potential bidders.

“We haven’t seen a [solicitation] from NASA like that for a satellite control system in a while. We’re intrigued by it, and excited by the opportunity to take a look at it,” said Jim Schuetzle, executive vice president, government division at Integral Systems Inc., Lanham, Md.

When NASA revised its acquisition strategy for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), it decided that it would award the ground element, what the agency is calling the Mission Operation Element, as a separate contract from the procurements for the spacecraft bus and the satellite’s payload.

The purpose of LDCM is to get a satellite launched as quickly as possible to replace the ailing Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 satellites before they shut down.

Landsat 7 was launched in April 1999 and designed to last five years or possibly longer, but a problem with its main instrument has made its data difficult to utilize. It is expected to run out of fuel in 2010.

Landsat 5 was launched in 1984 and is still in service, although scientists who use Landsat imagery worry that the 19-year-old satellite could fail at any time. It already has experienced a problem with its solar array drive mechanism that caused a temporary shutdown in late 2005.

NASA issued a notice Nov. 22 indicating that it will be issuing a request for proposal for the LDCM ground element work during the fourth quarter of 2007. In the meantime, it is requesting that those companies interested in pursuing the contract provide NASA with information about a variety of aspects of the mission.

The agency previously had planned to award a single fixed-price contract for the entire mission, but after congressional objections to that approach, NASA decided to separate the contracts for the bus and the instruments as well.

Ed Grigsby, NASA’s Landsat program executive , said Dec. 6 that awarding a separate contract for the ground segment fits into the scheme of NASA’s overall new acquisition approach for the project and will give the agency more flexibility as the work proceeds.

NASA’s Nov. 22 request for information seeks information from prospective bidders on a variety of topics, such as how commercial technology and products could be integrated into the mission, how integration and testing would be done, and cost estimates for maintaining the control system.

Grigsby said NASA officials will wait to see what kind of responses they get from the request before precisely defining the parameters of the LDCM mission operation element.

But the request indicates that the contractor in charge of the mission operation element would be responsible for such functions as command and control of the satellite, mission planning and scheduling, trending and analysis, flight dynamics and keeping tabs on the health and safety of the spacecraft .

Grigsby said NASA is still determining the contract value, and would not give a range on the potential value.

Companies pursuing the contract declined to speculate on how much it would be worth.

Also chasing the contract is Honeywell Aerospace of Minneapolis, according to Vaughn Turner, business development director for Honeywell’s NASA programs.

“It’s something we’re pursuing,” said Turner, noting that the company operates the Landsat 5 and 7 satellites from the ground. “We have a lot of background and history in operating an assortment of satellites, so it fits very well into our core competency area.”

Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., is another contender for the contract. Michael Ruggles, director of civil systems for Raytheon’s Intelligence and Information Systems business unit, said the company is working on their response right now, and will meet with NASA representatives in January to further outline their proposal.

“We have a very strong heritage here,” Ruggles said, noting that the company has done ground systems work on a number of NASA Earth observation systems programs, such as the Terra and Aqua satellites. He said that Raytheon has experience both in large-scale projects of this nature and ones that require a quick turn-around.

Industry sources speculated that other likely contenders for the contract include MacDonald, Dettwiler & Associates Ltd. of Richmond, British Columbia, and Computer Sciences Corp. of El Segundo, Calif., but the companies did not confirm by press time whether they would participate.

Vexcel Corp. of Boulder, Colo., will likely pursue the contract, but only as a subcontractor to another company, according to spokesman Jerry Skaw, who declined to specify on which team Vexcel would participate.