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

WASHINGTON — In an upset for incumbent Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Orbital ATK won a NASA contract to build a U.S. civilian polar-orbiting weather satellite, and possibly two more after that in a deal potentially worth $470 million, the space agency announced March 23.

Orbital ATK’s $253 million base contract runs through July 31, 2020, and calls for the Dulles, Virginia, company to build the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)-2 spacecraft, tentatively scheduled to launch by late 2021. JPSS satellites provide global weather coverage.

Orbital ATK’s option for JPSS-3 is worth $130 million and would extend the contract through July 31, 2024. The JPSS-4 option is worth $87 million and would extend the deal through July 31, 2028, said NASA.

JPSS-3 and JPSS-4 are slated to launch in 2024 and 2026, respectively, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2016 budget request, which was released Feb. 2. NOAA pays for and operates the U.S. civilian weather satellites, while NASA manages their construction and launch.

In winning the contract, Orbital ATK unseated incumbent Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, which is building the JPSS-1 spacecraft slated for launch in 2017. Ball also built the Suomi NPP spacecraft, which launched in 2011 as as an instrument testbed but was thrust into operational duty to avoid a gap in weather coverage.

With Orbital’s win, the only JPSS spacecraft still up for grabs is a gap-filler satellite NOAA has proposed to launch in 2019 to prevent an interruption in the flow of global weather data. The so-called Earth Observing Nanosatellite-Microwave would carry a single sensor described in budget documents as “a miniature microwave sounder that approximates the atmospheric profiling capabilities of the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder” aboard Suomi NPP and the JPSS satellites.

The Orbital ATK-built JPSS satellites will carry the same instruments as JPSS-1 and Suomi NPP. These include:

  • The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder from Northrop Grumman.
  • The Cross-Track Infrared Sounder from Exelis Geospatial Systems.
  • The Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite from Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems.
  • The Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite from Ball.

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.