Pentagon Acquisition Chief OKs Weather Satellite Plan

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department’s acquisition chief on Aug. 13 directed the Air Force to move forward with a new $5 billion weather satellite development program, which industry sources said will use Northrop Grumman-built satellite platforms.

The Pentagon has spent the last few months conceiving a new weather satellite program after the White House in February dismantled the military-civilian National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) effort. Pentagon officials in June presented Congress with a rough outline for the new Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), and the plan was approved in an Aug. 13 acquisition decision memorandum signed by Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. A copy of the memorandum was obtained by Space News.

The DWSS satellites will feature two instrument packages originally planned for NPOESS: the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite and the Space Environmental Monitoring sensor. The system will also carry a to-be-determined microwave sensor. The Naval Research Laboratory continues to develop the Microwave Imager Sounder that was intended to fly on NPOESS, but the military is looking at other options, an industry source said.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Redondo Beach, Calif., was the prime contractor for NPOESS, responsible for developing the satellite platform and managing instrument subcontractors and overall system integration. Air Force officials have indicated the desire to modify Northrop Grumman’s existing contract to keep the company involved with DWSS. Northrop Grumman will provide satellite platforms for the first two spacecraft in the series, but it has not been determined if the NPOESS bus design or another will be used, industry sources said.

NASA is taking the lead on the civilian weather satellite system following the cancellation of the NPOESS program. NASA intends to use elements of the sensor payloads developed for NPOESS, with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., supplying the initial satellite platform. However, Northrop Grumman has said it wants consideration as the satellite supplier for that effort.