WASHINGTON — With the competition underway to build the U.S. government’s next land imaging satellite, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA released new details March 28 on their strategy for ensuring that the successor to Landsat 7 has the right ground system in place in time for a 2011 launch.

NASA received bids in February from companies interested in building the main instrument for the so-called Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) and expects to select a spacecraft bus before the end of the year.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which will take over LDCM flight operations once the NASA-built satellite is in orbit and ready to go, is responsible for developing the mission’s ground segment. Rather than award a single contract for that work, the U.S. Geological Survey intends to make use of existing ground infrastructure and support contracts already in place, awarding new contracts as necessary to update the Landsat system for operating with its LDCM successor.

Ray Byrnes, the U.S. Geological Survey’s liaison for satellite missions, said the Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center near Sioux Falls, S.D., would continue to serve as the primary Landsat receiving station, responsible for processing, archiving and distributing the few hundred gigabytes of data the satellite is expect to transmit every day. In addition to those traditional roles, the EROS Data Center is taking on a big new responsibility: mission control.

Although the U.S. Geological Survey is in charge of Landsat 5 and 7 flight operations, those two satellites are controlled from facilities operated by other agencies. NASA hosts Landsat 7 flight operations at its Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., while Landsat 5 flight operations are based at a commercial facility in Columbia, Md., operated by Honeywell Aerospace of Phoenix.

Before the EROS Data Center can host LDCM flight operations, a mission control center must be built there. Byrnes said contract labor would be used to help get the job done. Likewise, the U.S. Geological Survey intends to use at least some contractors to staff the LDCM flight operations team. The contracts to build the mission operations center and staff it would be competitively awarded, U.S. Geological Survey officials said.

EROS Data Center Director R.J. Thompson said he expects to be able to carve the LDCM mission operations center out of existing floor space at the Sioux Falls facility. “We think for a very minor amount of cost, we will be able to accommodate the mission ops center itself,” he said in a telephone interview April 2. “I would not expect to see a significant modification for the [mission operations center]. It’s not a new building or anything like that.”

Thompson said the EROS team is also taking a look at whether the antenna ground stations — already in place in Sioux Falls to receive Landsat 5 and 7 data — can be used to command and control the LDCM spacecraft when the time comes.

“We are going to have to do some trade studies as we move forward on whether those stations are compatible … or whether we would have to go out [with a solicitation] for additional equipment,” he said, noting he expects to know later this year.

Some of the preparatory ground segment work ahead, however, could be handled through existing contracts , Byrnes said. For example, responsibility for processing the raw imagery LDCM transmits could be assigned to the EROS Data Center’s established technical support services contractor, Byrnes said, which currently is Science Applications International Corporation. The San Diego, Calif.-based contractor is in the fourth year of a five-year contract. A new five-year technical support services contract is due to be put out for bid later this year.

“EROS has built in-house talent in image processing” Byrnes said. “The folks out there on that technical services contract are quite adept at imaging processing.”

Thompson, however, said that while it is possible the job will go to the EROS Data Center’s in-house support contractor, nothing is finalized. “It’s a little unclear whether that will be the final course of action or not,” Thompson said. “We are just getting started in this process and we have a lot of work to do.”

Thompson said also that the EROS Data Center might use existing contracts during the development phase of the LDCM ground segment, but then go out with competitive awards for support during the operational phase of the mission.

Thompson would not estimate the dollar value of the ground segment work that needs to be done. However, he said getting the best value is his driving motivation, and he thinks that can best be accomplished through a mix of competitive awards and using existing contracts where it makes sense.

“I would like to think that when all is said and done that we dole out far more [of this work] through competitively-awarded contracts then we do in-house.”

While the U.S. Geological Survey is running any necessary procurements for the bulk of the ground segment work ahead, USGS intends to use NASA procurement services to acquire mission operations software.

“That is one of the elements that we’ve asked NASA to fold it into their procurement because it ties in so much with the spacecraft,” Byrnes said. “That just made more sense to us.”

William Ochs, the LDCM project manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, confirmed in a telephone interview April 2 that NASA would be buying software for the mission that does everything from commanding and controlling the satellite and its instruments, to scheduling mission activities, and monitoring the health of the spacecraft.

Ochs said that NASA is on track to award a contract for LDCM’s main instrument — the Operational Land Imager — this summer. Once NASA has selected the instrument, the agency intends to move forward on procuring a suitable spacecraft bus.

NASA intends to limit its selection to satellite platforms included in a list of pre-qualified vendors, called the Rapid 2 catalog, which is maintained by the Rapid Spacecraft Development Office at Goddard. Ochs said that NASA will be paying interested bidders to conduct spacecraft studies over the summer and expects to pick a platform for LDCM before the end of the year.

Greg Smith, head of the Rapid Spacecraft Development Office, said in a telephone interview that Rapid vendors were notified March 30 that they have until April 19 to submit proposals if they are interested in receiving one of the study contracts. The point of the studies, Smith said, is to give NASA a better idea of what platform it wants to buy for the mission.

The eight vendors included in the Rapid 2 catalog are: France and Italy’s Alcatel Alenia Space; Boulder, Colo.-based Ball Aerospace and Technologies; Europe’s EADS Astrium; Scottsdale , Ariz.-based General Dynamics C 4 Systems; Littleton, Colo.-based Microsat Systems; Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences; Palo Alto, Calif.-based Space Systems Loral; and the UK’s Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.