DMSP spacecraft
Defense Meteorological Satellite System (DMSP) spacecraft. Credit: U.S. Air Force Credit: U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has issued a request for information for the primary sensor on its next-generation weather satellite, a first step toward acquiring the hardware.

In a Feb. 19 posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the service said it intends to award a fixed-price contract for “a cost effective space-based passive microwave sensor” for the Weather Satellite Follow-on. The notice solicits industry input on sensor capabilities, cost and risk.

The Weather Satellite Follow-on, which will replace the Air Force’s venerable Defense Meteorological Satellite System spacecraft, will consist of a single satellite carrying two or three instruments that would launch into sun-synchronous orbit in 2021 or 2022. The program is expected to cost about $856 million, according to Air Force budget documents.

The Air Force will rely on the satellite to fill three main data requirements: ocean-surface wind speed and direction, tropical cyclone intensity, and information on charged particles in space with the potential to affect low-orbiting satellites. The first two measurements could be taken using the same microwave payload, according to the request for information.


According to the budget documents, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, the Naval Research Laboratory and the NASA-funded Jet Propulsion Laboratory have done study work on the microwave instrument.

Air Force officials have said the program could be managed by the service’s rapid-response space development shop known as the Operationally Responsive Space Office.

The service will hold an industry day on the sensor March 10.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.