WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman won a $45.5 million contract to launch a small weather satellite in 2025, the U.S. Space Force announced May 25.

The company’s Minotaur 4 rocket will launch a payload called Electro-Optical Infrared (EO/IR) Weather System (EWS) prototype that will demonstrate commercial weather imaging technologies for military use. The launch contract was a task order awarded by the U.S. Space Force’s Orbital Services Program-4. 

OSP-4 is run by the Space Systems Command’s Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracting vehicle for the acquisition of launch services for payloads over 400 pounds. 

The EWS weather satellite is a prototype made by General Atomics that will go to low Earth orbit for a three-year demonstration. The mission was designated USSF-261S-A. 

“The EWS prototype will prove out new EO/IR sensor technology to provide operational quality data to the DoD weather community and inform development of a more cost-effective and proliferated operational architecture,” the Space Systems Command said.

The Space Systems Command in January launched another EWS prototype, a cubesat made by Orion Space Solutions. That one flew to orbit on the SpaceX Transporter-6 rideshare for a one-year demonstration.

Project seeks to fill demand for weather data

The EWS demonstrations are an effort to fill a Defense Department need for weather data as the military’s decades-old Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites are running out of fuel and projected to be out of service by 2026.

Congress for years has pressed DoD to find alternatives to DMSP and consider commercial options.

The U.S. military and allies rely on weather data from satellites to plan military operators such as flight routes, combat search and rescue, maritime surface tracking efforts, enemy missile observation and intelligence collection.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...