Maxar studies Legion spacecraft for NOAA weather mission

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SAN FRANCISCO – Under a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration six-month study contract, Maxar Technologies will explore the application of its Legion-class satellite to weather observation from low Earth orbit.

“This is not just a technical study, it’s more programmatic,” Al Tadros, Maxar vice president of space infrastructure and civil space, told SpaceNews. “How do you develop and deploy a capability? How do you refresh technologies on a regular basis?”

NOAA is awarding a series of study contracts to explore potential instruments, spacecraft, business models and mission concepts for a space-based architecture to succeed the Joint Polar Satellite System and GOES-R series. As of June 2, NOAA had awarded 26 contracts for analyses of instrument and mission concepts. Fourteen of the contracts fund studies related to geostationary and extended orbits. Another 12 studies focus on low Earth orbit sounding.

For the low Earth orbit architecture study, Maxar is exploring the idea of integrating NOAA weather sensors on Legion-class satellite buses, under a $350,000 NOAA contract awarded May 25. Maxar would then own and operate the satellite constellation, leveraging much of the same ground infrastructure that it will use for its WorldView Legion remote sensing constellation to supply NOAA with weather data.

Maxar plans to launch the first block of six satellites into its WorldView Legion next-generation Earth imagery constellation in 2021. The WorldView Legion constellation is designed to collect land imagery from a variety of orbits to offer customers the ability to frequently observe specific locations.

There are “similarities in terms of coverage, resolution and pointing precision” between the requirements of Earth imagery and NOAA weather data customers, Tadros said. “There’s a lot that we have invested in [WorldView] that we can bring to a NOAA mission.”

Maxar won another NOAA study contract related to geostationary orbit.

Under that award, the company will flesh out the idea of supplying NOAA with Maxar’s commercial geostationary satellite bus, integrating the payload, arranging the launch and handing payload operations.

Whether NOAA wanted to follow a hosted-payload model or fly its geostationary instruments on a dedicated satellite, “there is a substantial capability in the commercial industry that can benefit NOAA in terms of cost, schedule and technology refresh,” Tadros said.

Under a NASA contract, Maxar is preparing to install NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring Pollution sensor as a hosted payload on a commercial communications satellite scheduled to travel to geostationary orbit in 2022.