NASA to kick-off project for orbiting lightning sensor to boost aviation safety, and provide storm warnings

May 1, 2023
LMX will be an orbiting single-channel near-infrared optical persistent surveillance detector to monitor for potentially damaging lightning storms.

GREENBELT, Md. – U.S. space sensors experts are reaching out to industry to design a future orbiting weather surveillance system to detect, locate, and measure the intensity, duration, and extent of lightning flashes at the Earth's surface.

Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., announced plans last week to issue a request for proposals to design and build the future GeoXO Lightning Mapper (LMX) instrument.

LMX will be a single-channel near-infrared optical persistent surveillance sensor to monitor for potentially damaging lightning storms near the Earth's surface, which could indicate threats to property, commercial aviation, and the formation of tornadoes.

The LMX will go aboard the future Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO) satellite of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Washington. LMX will continue critical orbital observations from the GOES-R Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) and potentially improve its resolution.

Related: New CubeSat measures electromagnetic effects of space storms

Lightning mapping from geostationary orbit improves severe storm analysis and increases lead time to detect tornado formation. The GLM also improves lightning hazard detection, hurricane intensity prediction, wildfire detection and response, heavy rain estimation, and aviation hazard mitigation.

Geostationary lightning data is available where other sources are more limited -- especially over oceans and in mountainous and rural areas. The data updates faster than local radar, and also fills-in radar coverage gaps. Lightning is an essential climate variable necessary to understand and predict changes in climate, NOAA experts say.

The LMX instrument is to be a single-channel spectral instrument to measure the location and intensity of optical transients produced by Lightning. LMX remotely collects data visible from geostationary orbit for severe atmospheric temperature and water vapor profiles for weather forecasting and atmospheric monitoring.

LMX will measure the location and intensity of optical transients from lightning, which NOAA and other agencies will use to forecast severe weather and to issue warnings for public safety.

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In April 2022 NASA awarded $5 million study contracts to the Northrop Grumman Corp. Space Systems segment in Azuza, Calif., and to the Lockheed Martin Corp. Space Systems segment in Littleton, Colo., to define the LMX instrument.

NASA will conduct the LMX procurement as a full and open competition for one contractor to develop two LMX flight models and two options for two additional LMX flight models, as well as support for 10 years of on-orbit operations and five years of on-orbit storage, for a total of 15 years for each flight models. The anticipated contract award will be in late February 2024.

NASA officials say the expect to release a draft request for proposals later this month, with a final solicitation in mid-June 2023. Companies interested may submit offers after the final solicitation is issued in June.

Email questions, concerns, or intentions to submit offers to NASA's Kelly Lytton at [email protected]. More information is online at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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