The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ingests, processes and disseminates data from dozens of U.S. government, commercial and international partner satellites. Credit: NOAA National Environmental Data Satellite and Information Service

DENVER – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will need to bring innovative commercial technologies into its satellite ground systems to ingest, process and disseminate the massive volume of data expected to be generated by future government, commercial and international partner satellites.

NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) studied future ground system requirements and determined “that if we continue to add more capacity, incorporate more data sources and more satellites with the current approach, it will be difficult for the government to accomplish its mission at the same level in the next 20 to 30 years,” Raad Saleh, who leads the NESDIS Ground Enterprise Study for NOAA’s Office of System Architecture and Advanced Planning, said Jan. 9 at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting here.

In fact, NOAA would “far exceed the funds available” if the agency carried out plans to expand its constellation through 2042 without changing its ground architecture strategy, said Michael Morgan, Commerce Department assistant secretary for environmental observation and prediction.

NOAA currently develops a unique ground system for each mission, an approach that threatens to become prohibitively expensive as the constellation expands, Morgan added.

In the future, NOAA will look to the private sector for “new breakthrough and disruptive technologies” like artificial intelligence and machine learning, cloud computing and digital twin as the agency transitions to an enterprise ground architecture to support its next generation of satellite observing systems, Saleh said.

Space industry officials on the AMS panel welcomed the new approach.

“Private industry has been rapidly and cost effectively implementing capabilities in the ground enterprise areas in response to market forces,” said Robert Smith, Northrop Grumman senior staff systems engineer. “Whether in cloud-hosting, ground station as a service, flexible antenna as a service, sensor payloads, rapid launch capabilities, satellite operations, data processing, and data access and dissemination, this is a good time to leverage private industry investments and deployment of these technologies.”

Other technology with promise for making satellite constellations more efficient are onboard processing, intersatellite links and data analysis with robust object-detection and feature-extraction algorithms, said Kumar Navulur, Maxar Technologies senior director of strategic initiatives.

Still, NOAA will face challenges in this transition to more reliance on the commercial sector, while ensuring that data integrity, security and quality does not suffer.

Instead of filling three-ring binders with requirements for new systems, NOAA may need to write service-level agreements for future systems, said Jack Maguire, general manager of the Aerospace Corp. Civil Space Programs Operations Division.

The European Space Agency also is moving toward an enterprise ground system and increasing reliance on the private sector.

Instead of establishing discrete ground systems for each mission as it did in the past, ESA has created a reference architecture based on common mission needs.

“Now we have a collection of products which we consider generic enough to support all the missions that are part of our portfolio,” said Mauro Pecchioli, director of the European Space Agency’s Multi-Mission Infrastructure Program. “These products are made available also to European industry to be used for programs which are not funded by ESA, which means we have created the basis for European industry to become competitive for non-institutionally funded programs.”

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...