Orbital ATK JPSS
Orbital ATK's version of the Joint Polar System Satellite spacecraft. Credit: Orbital ATK.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Government Accountability Office on July 16 denied a protest from Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. that sought to overturn the award of a U.S. weather satellite contract worth up to $470 million to rival Orbital ATK.

On March 24, NASA announced it awarded Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK a contract to build at least one and as many as three Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The pact includes a firm $253 million order for JPSS-2, with a $130 million option for JPSS-3 and an $87 million option for JPSS-4.

Ball, which is building JPSS-1, protested the award to GAO, claiming Orbital’s prices for JPSS-3 and JPSS-4 were suspiciously low. Ball argued thatt NASA would reap savings over Ball’s 15-percent higher bid only if it exercised every option on Orbital ATK’s contract.

GAO did not buy that argument.

“GAO reviewed the challenges to the selection decision raised by Ball and found no basis to sustain the protest,” Ralph White, GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law, wrote in a July 16 statement.

For now, the specifics of Ball’s argument will stay under wraps.

“The details of Ball’s challenges, and GAO’s decision resolving them, are covered by the terms of a protective order issued by GAO for the protest,” White wrote.

JPSS spacecraft provide global weather coverage. The first in the series, the converted Suomi-NPP testbed, launched in 2011. JPSS-1 is set to launch in 2017. The five-satellite series is designed to maintain coverage through 2038.

Orbital ATK plans to build the JPSS satellites at the Gilbert, Arizona, factory it absorbed when the company purchased General Dynamics’ satellite-manufacturing business in 2010.

Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.