DOD seeks to combine weather satellite systems

WASHINGTON - Engineering teams from five companies are competing to create space-based technologies to track wind direction and speed, produce enhanced images, and map the ozone layer for a new satellite system that seeks to combine data from U.S. military and civilian remote sensors into a single source of global weather information.

Sep 1st, 1997

By John McHale

WASHINGTON - Engineering teams from five companies are competing to create space-based technologies to track wind direction and speed, produce enhanced images, and map the ozone layer for a new satellite system that seeks to combine data from U.S. military and civilian remote sensors into a single source of global weather information.

Officials at the Department of Defense (DOD) are trying to blend information from two important weather satellites networks - one civil and the other military - into a single National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).

The two satellite systems to be involved in NPOESS are the Polar Operational Environmental Satellites of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.

As a central objective of NPOESS, DOD officials are asking industry engineers to build a Visible/Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite; Cross-track Infrared Sounder; Conical Microwave Imaging Suite; and Ozone Mapping Profiling Suite.

Designers from the five teams will study and model important hardware to reduce risk when they begin manufacturing flight hardware. Downselect to one team for each instrument should be completed by 2000.

Due to the current competitive status of the contract, every team involved in the project has declined comment on specific technical details.

Competing to build the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) are teams led by Hughes Aircraft Co. in Goleta, Calif., and ITT Aerospace and Communication Division in Fort Wayne, Ind. An advanced multi-channel imaging radiometer, the VIIRS will provide 60 different measurements ranging from ocean temperature to thickness of cloud cover.

Engineers at ITT are trying not only to enhance the imager`s spatial and spectral resolution, but also to extend its range, says Steve Johnson, business development manager at ITT.

Marty Greenfield, program manager at Hughes, sees the contract as a chance to improve optical subsystems and cooling technology.

Teams from ITT and Hughes are also competing to design the Cross-Track Infrared Sensor (CrlS) - a high-resolution spectral infrared sounder for temperature and water vapor profiling. The CrIS will precisely measure air temperature and humidity at different altitudes to improve weather forecasts.

A Michelson interferometer, developed at Bomem Inc. in Quebec and tested at MIT Lincoln Labs in Cambridge, Mass., will improve the sensor`s capability, Johnson says.

A cross-track scanning sensor for temperature and water vapor profiling that works with the CrIS is also being developed at Hughes and ITT.

Meanwhile, engineers from Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Broomfield, Colo., and at Hughes Space and Communications Co. in Los Angeles, are competing to build the conical scanning microwave imager/sounder (CMIS).

The imager portion of the CMIS will penetrate clouds to measure rain rate, wind speed and direction over the ocean, amount of water in clouds, and soil moisture. The sounder will take temperature and humidity profiles of the atmosphere.

The CMIS instrument is the third- generation microwave sensor project at Hughes Space, says Joe Geary, CMIS program manager. The second Hughes microwave sensor, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Microwave Imager, added new technologies and capabilities to microwave imaging, and CMIS will go even further by incorporating the sounder.

By detecting microwave energy from the earth`s surface and atmosphere, the sensor`s data will enable analysts from NOAA and NASA to observe meteorological phenomena such as storms and the "El Nino" ocean patterns. Military analysts use the information for tropical storm reconnaissance, ship routing in polar regions, agricultural weather reports, aircraft routing and refueling, and communications management.

Engineers from Orbital Sciences Corp. in Pomona, Calif., and Ball Aerospace are competing to design the Ozone Mapping and Profiling Suite (OMPS), which maps global ozone and profiles the atmosphere at different altitudes.

Experts believe that combining missions may save the government as much as $300 million through 1999, and as much as $1 billion over the life of the program. NPOESS requires only six satellites, as compared to ten for the military and civil systems. The first NPOESS launch is scheduled for 2009.

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