The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Satellite Applications and Research captured this image of an algae bloom in the Barents Sea on July 15, 2021 with the NOAA-20 satellite. Credit: NOAA

SAN FRANCISCO – Ball Aerospace and Raytheon Intelligence & Space will begin developing ocean color sensors for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s next generation of geostationary weather satellites under contracts announced May 26.

Under the firm-fixed-price contracts awarded by NASA, NOAA’s partner for the acquisition, each company will receive approximately $5.2 million to perform a definition-phase study of a passive imaging radiometer to provide frequent observations of ocean biology, chemistry and ecology.

The ocean color instrument, known as OCX is a new addition to NOAA’s geostationary fleet. The future constellation, called Geostationary and Extended Observations or GeoXO, will gather data related to ocean productivity, ecosystem change, coastal and inland water quality, seafood safety and hazards like harmful algal blooms.

Beginning in the early 2030s, NOAA plans to operate three GeoXO satellites. Two will be flown over the Eastern and Western United States, like the current GOES-R series, plus a third satellite over the central United States.

The OCX instrument will gather imagery in the ultraviolet through near infrared spectral bands. Ball and Raytheon will have 20 months to define the instrument’s potential performance, risks, cost and development schedule. Based on the industry studies, NOAA will establish requirements for the OCX instrument implementation contract, which the agency plans to award in 2024.

Ball and Raytheon won contracts earlier this month to begin developing GeoXO Atmospheric Composition instruments.

Ball also is working on a definition Phase A study of a geostationary sounder for the GeoXO constellation. NASA awarded contracts valued at approximately $8 million apiece to Ball and to L3Harris in October.

Raytheon is building a weather satellite prototype for the U.S. Space Force.

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...