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U.S. Space Force considers a second NOAA weather satellite

This artist's concept shows the new Weather System Follow-on – Microwave satellite Ball Aerospace is building for the U.S. Air Force under a contract awarded in November. It includes a passive microwave imaging radiometer instrument and energetic charged particle sensor supplied by the government. Credit: Ball Aerospace

DENVER – The U.S. Space Force is holding discussions with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about replacing a geostationary weather satellite over the Indian Ocean.

In 2020, the U.S. Air Force began collecting weather imagery with the former GOES-13, a Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite NOAA launched in 2006 and retired in 2018. That satellite, renamed Electro-Optical Infrared Weather System-Geostationary (EWS-G), provides imagery in support of U.S. Central Command.

“We currently are using where we’re calling EWS-G1, which is covering the Indian Ocean today,” Lt. Col. Joseph L. Maguadog, who direct the Electro-Optical and Infrared Weather System program, said Jan. 9 at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting here. “And we’re in discussions with our NOAA partners about utilizing another GOES satellite to succeed that first capability.”

While those discussions continue, efforts are underway to update other elements of the military weather satellite fleet.

A cubesat built by Orion Space Solutions to gather weather imagery launched Jan. 3 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare flight. The U.S. Space Force plans to evaluate the cubesat’s performance over the next year as one element of its Electro-optical and infrared Weather Satellite (EWS) program.

“We look at it as more of a high-risk, high-reward prototype that we’re hoping might inform the type of capability we use in the long term,” Maguadog said.

Through the EWS program, the Space Force also is preparing to gather imagery with a small satellite built by General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems equipped with an imaging sensor developed by EO Vista.

“We believe that satellite will provide the necessary user capability as soon as we get it up there,” Maguadog said.

The Space Force plans to launch two Weather System Follow-on-Microwave (WSF-M) satellites built by Ball Aerospace to provide information on ocean surface winds, tropical cyclone intensity and space weather.

The first WSF-M is scheduled for launch in January 2024. The second satellite, ordered in November, is slated to launch in 2028.

Ball has completed construction of the WSF-M spacecraft bus and the satellite’s Microwave Imager (MWI) instrument, the company announced Jan. 10. The next step is space vehicle assembly, integration and testing.

“The nearly simultaneous completion of the spacecraft bus and instrument testing mark a significant milestone for the WSF-M program,” Hope Damphousse, Ball Aerospace vice president for strategic operations, said in a statement. “We are moving forward with spacecraft integration of the MWI sensor, along with a government-furnished Energetic Charged Particle sensor, which will be followed by a suite of space vehicle performance and environmental tests.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree...