SNC Building Rotating Mount for JPSS-2 Instrument

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The Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument, built by Northrop Grumman, helps scientists better understand the planet’s weather and climate by measuring both sunlight and radiation reflected into space by Earth’s clouds, and radiation emitted by Earth itself. Credit: NASA
The Exelis-built Radiation Budget Instrument will perform essentially the same function on JPSS-2 as the Northrop Grumman-built Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System instrument (above) will for JPSS-1. Both radiometers will help scientists better understand Earth’s weather and climate by measuring sunlight and radiation reflected into space by clouds, and radiation emitted from the planet. Credit: NASA

Exelis Geospatial Systems of Rochester, New York, tapped Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) Space Systems of Louisville, Colorado, to build a rotating mount for an instrument Exelis is providing for a U.S. civilian weather satellite launching in 2021.

SNC, which did not disclose the value of the work in a May 14 press release announcing the award, will build the so-called Azimuth Rotation Module for the Radiation Budget Instrument Exelis is building for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)-2 spacecraft. Exelis is building the instrument under a roughly $200 million contract awarded in 2014 by NASA, which procures and builds all NOAA satellites.

The Radiation Budget Instrument measures sunlight and radiation reflected into space by Earth’s clouds, and radiation emitted by Earth itself. The data helps scientists better understand how much energy is entering and leaving the planet — a process that affects weather and climate.

The Radiation Budget Instrument is an upgraded version of the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System instrument, which was built by Northrop Grumman. That instrument is now flying on the primary U.S. civilian polar-orbiter, Suomi NPP, and a copy is set to launch with JPSS-1 in 2017.

Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, built Suomi NPP and is building JPSS-1. However, Orbital ATK, Dulles, Virginia, wrested the JPSS work away from the incumbent March 24, winning a NASA contract worth up to $470 million to build JPSS-2, JPSS-3 and JPSS-4. The only firm order on Orbital ATK’s contract is $253 million for JPSS-2.

Ball protested NASA’s decision in an April 7 filing with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which now has until July 16 to issue a ruling. If GAO finds a flaw with NASA’s procurement process, it could force the agency to recompete the JPSS follow-on work. In the meantime, NASA directed Orbital ATK to stop work on JPSS-2, which would be built at the company’s Gilbert, Arizona, satellite factory. Government agencies routinely suspend work on contracts under protest.