This image shows the Lake Effect in February 2020 over the Great Lakes region. The Lake Effect refers to cold, below-freezing air passing over a lake's warmer waters. When this happens, some lake water evaporates, which can lead to heavy snowfall. Credit: NOAA

SAN FRANCISCO – L3Harris Technologies and Raytheon Intelligence & Space won NASA contracts to carry forward studies of next-generation imagers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geostationary and Extended Observations (GEO-XO) satellites.

The one-year, firm-fixed price contracts worth about $6 million apiece set the stage for the two weather sensor leaders to compete to build infrared and visible-imaging instruments for the NOAA satellites to follow the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R (GOES-R) series. NASA awarded the contracts on behalf of NOAA, the agency funding, managing and preparing to operate the satellites.

L3Harris is the incumbent. The company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, builds GOES-R’s Advanced Baseline Imagers. In addition, L3Harris manufactures Cross Track Infrared Sounders for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), Japan’s Advanced Himawari Imagers and South Korea’s Advanced Meteorological Instrument.

Raytheon Intelligence & Space, based in El Segundo, California, offers a serious challenge. Raytheon builds sensors for low Earth and geostationary orbit including the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System and the Missile Defense Agency’s two-satellite Space Tracking and Surveillance System.

“Looking at GEO-XO, there are some unique discriminators that that we’ve learned by our various program including the importance of being able to look at weather phenomenology and characterize it at night,” Shawn Cochran, Raytheon Intelligence & Space senior business development manager for Space & C2 Systems, told SpaceNews. “So bringing new capabilities like ocean color and day/night capability are going to be important for the next generation of GOES.”

L3Harris, meanwhile, is proposing a follow-on for the Advanced Baseline Imager.

ABI “has done very well in terms of weather tracking, particularly when there are severe storm events either hurricanes or tornado activity, things that demand spatial resolution, temporal resolution and speed,” Rob Mitrevski, L3Harris vice president and general manager for spectral solutions at L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems, told SpaceNews. “ABI also has shown some new capabilities that have worked out very well: wildfire detection and detection of hot spots, the sources of the wildfires.”

Through the GEO-XO program, NOAA seeks to obtain additional channels and improved data compression to take advantage of technological innovation to improve its ability to provide timely and accurate weather, ocean and climate data. The first GEO-XO satellite is expected to launch in the early 2030s before NOAA retires the GOES-R Series satellites.

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...