NASA taps General Atomics to build solar irradiance satellite

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SAN FRANCISCO — General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems won a $32.9 million contract to build NASA’s Total and Spectral solar Irradiance-2 (TSIS-2) spacecraft, a small satellite scheduled to launch in 2023.

Under the firm-fixed price, time and materials contract awarded July 6, General Atomics will develop and test the TSIS-2 spacecraft, integrate instruments, and support the launch and in-orbit operations for three years. TSIS-2 will be equipped with the Total Irradiance Monitor and Spectral the Irradiance Monitor built by the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

“TSIS-2 will observe the sun and its evolution over time to better inform climate models and improve understanding of solar events,” Nick Bucci, vice president of GA-EMS Missile Defense and Space Systems, told SpaceNews.

General Atomics is basing the TSIS-2 design on its Orbital Test Bed, a scalable, modular platform designed to accommodate multiple payloads from a single customer or hosted payloads from multiple customers.

The TSIS-2 spacecraft competition pitted General Atomics against the Southwest Research Institute. The Southwest Research Institute submitted a very strong proposal but General Atomics won the contract largely because its bid was 40% lower than the Southwest Research Institute’s, according to the TSIS-2 Spacecraft Selection Statement published on the U.S. government website beta.sam.gov.

“While this was a close selection, I have concluded that the very substantial magnitude of the firm fixed price difference is worth more to NASA than the slight Mission Suitability advantages offered by SWRI’s proposal, as well the two ratings higher level of confidence rating received by SwRI in the Past Performance assessment,” according to the Spacecraft Selection Statement.

Bucci said in a statement, “Our spacecraft designs provide lower-cost access to space helping customers keep pace with the demand to provide for missions like TSIS-2.”

General Atomics plans to design, manufacture, assemble, integrate and test the TSIS-2 satellite at its existing facilities in the Denver area and at its new spacecraft development, integration and test factory in Centennial, Colorado, Bucci said in an interview.

The first Orbital Test Bed, which launched in 2019 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, housed five distinct payloads for commercial, government and academic customers, including the Deep Space Atomic Clock developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA awarded General Atomics a $38.5 million contract in 2018 to send the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols, an instrument developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, into orbit on Orbital Test Bed-2.

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems won a $37.9 million contract in 2018 to fly the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Argos Advanced Data Collection System on the third Orbital Test Bed.

 “We are extremely pleased to expand our relationship with NASA and to continue supporting their research goals with our flexible, modular OTB platforms,” Scott Forney, General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems president said in a statement. “This contract is another exciting opportunity that demonstrates [General Atomics’] ability to deliver satellites on an aggressive schedule. The OTB platform will allow us to quickly and affordably integrate the TSIS-2 payload suite onto a free-flying spacecraft that will operate in a sun-synchronous orbit and allow NASA continuous solar monitoring capabilities throughout its mission life cycle.”