JPSS-1, renamed NOAA-20 after its launch in November 2017, was formally declared operational May 30, 2018. Credit: NOAA

WASHINGTON — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced May 30 that its first next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellite is now fully operational as the government moves to procure additional satellites.

NOAA said that the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) weather satellite, renamed NOAA-20 after its Nov. 18 launch, had completed six months of on-orbit checkout and is now fully operational.

NOAA-20 is in the same orbit as the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, which had been serving as NOAA’s primary polar-orbiting weather satellite since 2014. While Suomi, launched in late 2011, continues to operate past its planned five-year lifetime, NOAA-20 entering service ends any concerns about a data gap.

NOAA-20 carries a suite of advanced instruments that provide improved observations of weather conditions that feed into weather models, increasing the accuracy of three- to seven-day forecasts.

Data from NOAA-20 is particularly important for the polar regions, which cannot be observed well from satellites in geostationary orbit. “NOAA-20 is especially beneficial for tracking developing storms in the Arctic, Alaska and Antarctica,” said Neil Jacobs, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction, in a statement. “Forecasts for these remote regions are critical for the U.S. fishing, energy, transportation and recreation industries, which operate in some of the harshest conditions on the planet.”

JPSS-1 was built by Ball Aerospace, but future satellites in the series will be built by Orbital ATK under a contract awarded in March 2015. That original contract covered JPSS-2, with options for JPSS-3 and 4. Ball protested the award to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which denied the protest in July 2015.

NASA announced May 25 it was exercising the options for JPSS-3 and 4. The agency didn’t disclose the value of the options, saying only the overall contract value, including JPSS-2 currently under construction, was $460 million. In the 2015 contract announcement, NASA said JPSS-3 was valued at $130 million and JPSS-4 at $87 million, with a total contract value of $470 million. NASA serves as the acquisition authority for NOAA weather satellite programs.

“Orbital ATK is making excellent progress on JPSS-2, and the program team is ready to begin work on the additional two JPSS satellites,” said Steve Krein, vice president of science and environmental satellite programs at Orbital ATK, in a statement about JPSS-3 and 4. Integration and testing of JPSS-2 is scheduled to begin this summer, with delivery planned for 2021.

JPSS-3 is scheduled for delivery in 2023, with JPSS-4 to follow in 2026. However, those two satellites will not be launched immediately. NOAA anticipates launching JPSS-3 in 2026 and JPSS-4 in 2031, dates that could change depending on the status of satellites in orbit.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...