WASHINGTON — With Lockheed Martin clinching a contract potentially worth $1.09 billion to build the next generation of U.S. geostationary-orbiting weather satellites, the next hurdle for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be awarding the ground segment contract in an uncertain budget climate that could cause delays.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems will build two Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R, or GOES-R, satellites, with options to build two more under a contract announced Dec. 2. NASA is managing the satellite procurement and launch on behalf of NOAA.

Lockheed Martin beat out incumbent Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., and Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., to win the contract, whose base value, covering two satellites, is $779 million. The first of the GOES-R satellites is scheduled to be ready for launch by 2015.

“We are proud to have been selected by NASA to provide this vital environmental satellite system for our nation,” Joanne Maguire, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said in a written statement. “GOES-R will expand capabilities for weather forecasting that will help to better protect lives and property.”

Meanwhile, Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., and Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., are competing for the GOES-R ground segment contract, estimated to be worth more than $1 billion. That award had been expected in March.

Abigail Harper, deputy assistant administrator for systems at NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, said the ground segment award now is expected sometime between April and June.

NOAA, along with most other U.S. federal agencies, is operating under a continuing resolution that caps funding at 2008 levels until March. NOAA is seeking an additional $242 million in 2009 to cover costs associated with the two major GOES-R contracts. The new Congress and President-elect BarackObama will have to decide in early 2009 whether to consider new budgets for federal agencies or continue to fund them at 2008 levels, which would affect GOES-R’s schedule.

“Right now we are carefully managing the schedule within the confines of that [continuing resolution]. As long as it’s relatively short we can continue on our schedule. If it does continue through the full year that will have an impact on the GOES-R schedule,” Harper said. “We are still planning on the ground segment in the spring. We’re looking at the third quarter.”

The GOES-R system – whose total estimate life-cycle cost is $7.7 billion – will replace the GOES-N satellite series with instruments capable of scanning the United States every five minutes, improving weather forecasting and offering greater precision in monitoring sea surface temperatures, aerosols and dust, volcanic ash plumes and lightning. NASA already has awarded contracts for the six GOES-R instruments, of which the most technologically complex is the $359 million Advanced Baseline Imager being built by White Plains, N.Y.-based ITT Corp.

The first of the three Boeing-built GOES-N satellites was launched in May 2006; the two others are slated for launch in March and September 2009.

In a written statement, Boeing officials expressed disappointment at not winning the GOES-R contract. “We will request a formal debrief from NASA and will not make a decision on a path forward until a formal debrief is completed,” the statement said.

Northrop Grumman officials focused on the positive aspects of their proposal: “Northrop Grumman submitted a very competitive bid, based on our extensive experience building and integrating spacecraft for Earth observation missions,” the company said in a written statement provided by spokeswoman Sally Koris. Northrop Grumman is prime contractor on the new generation of U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellites.

The GOES-R program has been hit by cost growth that in 2006 forced the removal of a key sensor package, called the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite, which included an advanced sounder for measuring atmospheric temperature and humidity at all altitudes. The package was removed when GOES-R program costs ballooned from $6.2 billion to $11 billion.

In February 2007, NOAA officials, unveiling their 2008 budget request, said they had pushed the first GOES-R launch out by two years to 2014. That schedule was revised to 2015 during the 2008 budget process, Harper said.

While the first two satellites in the GOES-R series will not have an advanced sounder, NOAA will be looking for opportunities in the budget to reinsert that capability into the program, possibly as an option on one of the additional two GOES-R satellites if they are built, Harper said. The Advanced Baseline Imager will be a major step up in imaging capability while providing data comparable to the sounders on the current GOES satellites, she said.

“GOES-R will not be doing the advanced sounding products that we had hoped to get from a [Hyperspectral Environmental Suite] but we are very confident it can produce the legacy products that the legacy sounders were producing,” Harper said. “We are still keeping open the analysis of opportunity to find the proper time to get an advanced sounder into our system. … It’s not part of the baseline for GOES-R, but we are investigating how we can get advanced sounding back into our constellation.”

Capabilities planned for the ground processing segment also were removed due to budget constraints. GOES-R project managers spent six months in 2007 reconciling a 10 percent difference between NOAA’s life-cycle cost estimates and estimates prepared by independent teams. The $7.7 billion life cycle cost projection, which includes operations, grounds systems, spacecraft, instruments and launch vehicle costs through 2028, is a compromise between the two estimates.

“We had to descope some of the ground systems to make sure we fit within that budget, so you’ll see options in the ground contract that if the budget is going well, we can put them back in, but they’re out as a baseline,” Harper said. “So we reconciled and came up with a single estimate that we feel comfortable that we can fit within.”

That reconciliation of the independent and internal cost projections differs from the process used for the polar-orbiting weather satellite system involving NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Defense Department, that was restructured in 2006 due to massive cost growth. Harper said a vigorous independent review process is in place for GOES-R as a result of lessons learned from the experience with the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System.