The Advanced Baseline Imager built by L3Harris Technologies is the primary instrument on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R series. Credit: L3Harris Technologies

SAN FRANCISCO – L3Harris Technologies won four National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contracts worth a combined $2.55 million for design studies of weather satellites, instruments and mission concepts.

L3Harris supplies the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) for NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R series, the Cross Track Infrared Sounder for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System, Japan’s Advanced Himawari Imagers and South Korea’s Advanced Meteorological Instrument.

Through the design studies, L3Harris seeks to build on that foundation. In one study, for example, L3Harris will look at ways to improve ABI.

“You already saw the imagery revolution with ABI,” Rob Mitrevski, vice president and general manager Spectral Solutions, L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems. “Our imagery study is about evolution with higher resolution, more spectral bands and continuing really fast updates. The idea is to make it affordable and low risk.”

In contrast, L3Harris sees revolutionary potential in sounding instruments. The company is studying a hyperspectral sounder in geostationary orbit to provide persistent observations of temperature, pressure and humidity for thin slices of the atmosphere. With that data, forecasters could provide more advance warning of tornadoes and other types of severe weather, Mitrevski said.

L3Harris also is evaluating a hyperspectral sounder for low Earth orbit.

“The Cross Track infrared Sounder is probably the best sounder on Earth,” Mitrevski said. “Now the question is: How do you convert that technology to a more proliferated platform?”

L3Harris will explore tradeoffs related to performance, cost, and the size and shape of the sounder through another design study. L3Harris “has spent a lot of internal investment” on a miniature hyperspectral sounder called HyperCube, Mitrevski said. Measurements from that sensor could augment data from the Cross Track Infrared Sounder, he added.

In addition, L3Harris plans to look at combining hyperspectral, infrared and global navigation satellite system radio occultation sounders on a single platform.

“It’s more of a high-level constellation discussion,” Mitrevski said. “When you put three types of sounding instruments together affordably, what information do you get on thin slices of the atmosphere?”

NOAA is awarding a series of contracts to evaluate new instruments, spacecraft, business models and mission concepts for the space-based architecture to succeed the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R series.

As of July 1, NOAA had awarded more than $13.5 million to 15 companies for 25 design studies, according to the U.S. government website

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...