NOAA 2000-082
Contact: Pat Viets


A $297.6 million contract has been awarded to Raytheon Company, Santa Barbara Remote Sensing Group of Santa Barbara, Calif., to develop an advanced operational environmental satellite sensor that will significantly improve weather forecasting and climate prediction as part of an interagency program to make government less costly, more efficient and more responsive to public needs, Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced today.

Mineta said the new instrument is part of the Administration's National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program, which will become operational later this year, and will save the taxpayers about $1.8 billion over its lifetime. The savings will accrue as a result of the administration's initiative to combine the nation's military and civilian environmental satellite programs into a single, national system that will satisfy both civil and national security requirements for space-based remotely-sensed environmental data.

"This program marks the most significant change in U.S. operational remote sensing since the launch of the first weather satellite in 1960," he said, adding that the program heralds a "new unified path for the United States in the development, acquisition, management and operation of environmental satellites.

"These satellite instruments will improve short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate prediction," Mineta said. "In this way, they will touch all of our lives and will ultimately benefit all sectors of our society, including families across the country, the scientific community, the private sector, and the business community."

The contract to Raytheon's Santa Barbara Remote Sensing Group is for a Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), an advanced, high-spatial resolution imaging instrument to be flown aboard the nation's environmental satellites of the future. VIIRS will provide high-accuracy radiometric measurements of reflected sunlight in multiple spectral bands within the visible-to-thermal infrared range to determine sea surface temperature, cloud cover, atmospheric aerosols, soil wetness, surface albedo, vegetation index, snow cover, sea ice, and ocean color. VIIRS will continue the high-resolution cloud imaging and visual, nighttime low light imaging capabilities of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft to support the operational needs of the Department of Defense, as well as the civil applications of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The contract was awarded November 20 by the tri-agency Integrated Program Office, which consists of components of the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The contract, which encompasses design and fabrication of the new visible/infrared imager, totals approximately $297.6 million, including options, and will run through 2015, if all options are exercised. The contract effort will ultimately produce up to eight VIIRS units that will use advanced radiometric technologies at high spatial resolution to accurately image and measure atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial parameters. The more accurate VIIRS measurements are expected to yield significant improvements in the skill of short-to-long range weather forecasts and long-term climate predictions.

The first VIIRS unit will be flown on the NPOESS Preparatory Project mission, a joint effort between the NPOESS Integrated Program Office and NASA. The NPP mission will provide an early opportunity, beginning in late 2005, to test and evaluate VIIRS prior to the launch of the first operational NPOESS spacecraft, as well as test the ground-based data processing systems and demonstrate the utility of the improved imaging and radiometric data in short-term weather nowcasting and forecasting and in other oceanic and terrestrial applications, such as harmful algal blooms, volcanic ash, and wildfire detection. Of equal importance, NPP will ensure continuity of advanced imaging and radiometric data by "bridging" between the NASA Earth Observing System research missions (EOS-Terra and Aqua) early in this decade and the NPOESS operational missions that will begin late in the decade. The remaining VIIRS units will be flown on the operational NPOESS spacecraft.

In 1999, contracts were awarded to Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation of Boulder, Colo., for the development and fabrication of an Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite instrument to improve the accuracy of Earth's ozone measurements and to ITT Industries, ITT Aerospace/Communications Division of Ft. Wayne, Ind., for the development and fabrication of a Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) to provide high spectral resolution measurements of the vertical distribution of temperature, moisture, and pressure in the atmosphere. Contracts were also awarded in 1999 to Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space of Sunnyvale, Calif., and TRW Space and Electronics Group of Redondo Beach, Calif., for preliminary system design and data processing demonstrations for NPOESS.

"With the award of the VIIRS contract, the NPOESS program is well along the path to creating a high performance, integrated polar satellite system that will cost less, be more responsive to user demands, and deliver more capability than those in use today," said John D. Cunningham, who is system program director of the NPOESS Integrated Program Office. An additional contract will be awarded in 2001 for development and fabrication of an advanced microwave imaging and sounding sensor for NPOESS. The NPOESS sensor suites will deliver higher resolution and more accurate atmospheric, oceanographic, terrestrial, and solar-geophysical data to support improved accuracy in short-term weather forecasts and warnings and severe storm warnings, as well as serve the data continuity requirements of the climate community for improved climate prediction and assessment and environmental monitoring.

The 1994 Presidential Decision Directive that established the NPOESS Integrated Program Office charged NOAA with overall responsibility for the converged system, as well as satellite operations and interactions with the civil and international user communities. The Department of Defense has the lead agency responsibility for major systems acquisitions, including launch support. NASA has primary responsibility for facilitating the development and incorporation of new cost-effective technologies into the converged system. Representatives from NOAA, DOD, and NASA participated in the NPOESS VIIRS source selection, which was held in Silver Spring, Maryland.