US Weather Satellites: From NPOESS’ Hairy Crises, to DWSS/ JPSS Split Ends

For more on this and other stories, please consider purchasing a membership.
If you are already a subscriber, login to your account.
NPOESS (click to view full) The National Polar-orbiting Observing Satellite System (NPOESS) was a joint program of the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce and NASA to replace less sophisticated weather satellites that are expected to fail over the next several years. It would help develop 3-7 day weather forecasts for civilian and military purposes, […]
Satellite NPOESS

(click to view full)

The National Polar-orbiting Observing Satellite System (NPOESS) was a joint program of the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce and NASA to replace less sophisticated weather satellites that are expected to fail over the next several years. It would help develop 3-7 day weather forecasts for civilian and military purposes, including weather like hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. Unfortunately, the program ended up billions over budget, and 6 or more years late. Some gaps in coverage are possible during that time, if enough older satellites fail.

In November 2005 testimony given at a House of Congress Science Committee hearing, the Administrator of NOAA and the Undersecretary of the Air Force promised new cost and schedule estimates and policy options, as well as fuller and more rapid information. NPOESS was openly described as “a program in crisis.” Just under 5 years later, that crisis came to an end with a program split into civilian (JPSS) and military (DWSS) systems, and a 5-year NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite that will test key instruments and serve as a capability bridge.

The NPOESS Program: Basic Briefing

Hurricane Katrina

Katrina (click to view full)

Until its effective termination in April 2010, the NPOESS program was a joint DoD/DoC/NASA endeavor that tried to integrate the capabilities and infrastructure of the DoC Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite Program (POES), the DoD Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), and NASA’s long-term continuous climate record collection (CCRC). It was intended to serve as a single, integrated satellite system satisfying both civil and national security requirements for space-based, remotely sensed environmental data, with the aim of significantly improving weather forecasting and climate prediction. NPOESS included a space segment, ground segment, system engineering integration and operations, and software support the field terminals of mobile users.

At present, the Pentagon relies on a constellation of very old DMSP satellites, many of whom have lasted far beyond their design lifespan. There are 2 birds in storage, which will now be launched as a supplement to the constellation.

On the civilian side, NOAA relies on 2 key systems for its weather forecasts. One is the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES). It provides continuous imaging and sounding data of the Western Hemisphere, feeding into short-range weather forecasts and the USA’s ability to observe extreme weather events. It remained its own program, and didn’t become part of NPOESS.

The Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) program provides global images and atmospheric measurements a few times a day, which feeds global weather models that are critical to the mid-long range forecasts. It was rolled into NPOESS, and NOAA launched its final polar-orbiting satellite in February 2009.

NPOESS contemplated a series of 6 satellites, with a maximum of 3 operating at any given time in early morning, mid morning, and early afternoon orbits. In the end, NPOESS was split, as the multi-agency approach was deemed ineffective and ungovernable. By 2012, however, the defense half of the split, DWSS, was also cancelled.

Early-morning data remains critical to the US military, because that’s often when battles start. The United States was eventually forced to say it would supplement morning observations from NPOESS and its successors with data provided by the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites’ (EUMETSAT) series of MetOp satellites later in the day. In order to ensure that potential enemies can’t get their hands on European weather data, the Europeans created the Data Denial Implementation Plan list. At the same time, the USA will launch 2 stored DMSP weather satellites to plug the gap.

Hereafter: NPP, JPSS and DWSS

DMSP image

DMSP: points of light
(click to view full)

NPOESS’ failure led to a re-split program, each of which would have a single owner. NASA would manage the civilian Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) afternoon orbit satellites, on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) behalf. The Pentagon would manage its own Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) for the morning orbit.

With JPSS replacing $1.4 billion in contracts with up to $1.7 billion in contracts, and DWSS requiring over $400 million in initial design work to address additional requirements and all attendant risks, it was hard to see how the split approach expected to save money over the original plan.

The USAF still has some Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) polar-orbiting satellites available for launch for the next few years, but NOAA launched its last stored satellite in late 2009, and is out of options. As such, initial development efforts focused on NASA and NOAA’s JPSS platform.



In April 2010, NASA’s approach to the civilian Joint Polar Satellite System became clear. They would move all existing afternoon orbit instruments and the ground system under a NASA structure. To insure the successful completion and launch of the JPSS spacecraft with no loss of continuity in critical climate and weather forecasting data, and no danger to its assurance standards, NASA believed it would have to contract directly with the instrument and ground system developers. Sole source contracts would follow to the following firms:

* Ball Aerospace and Technologies – Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS). Offers better resolution re: ozone levels and distribution in the troposphere, and in the upper atmosphere. Data will also be used to forecast the ultraviolet exposure of humans in particular areas, and to monitor air quality.
* ITT Space Systems – Cross-Track Infrared Sounder (CrIS). Improves measurement of the atmosphere’s temperature and moisture, using more than 1,300 spectral channels, with calibration better than 0.1 degree Kelvin and accuracy of better than 1 degree Kelvin.
* Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems – Advanced Technology Microware Sounder (ATMS). Also profiles the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere, using much shorter microwave wavelengths. ATMS + CrIS = CrIMSS, the Cross-track Infrared Microwave Sounding Suite.
* Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems – JPSS/NPP Ground System.
* Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems – Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), monitoring at 22 different wavelengths for land and sea surface temperature monitoring, cloud characterization, etc.

Suomi NPP


(click to view full)

October 2011 saw NASA launch the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), which became the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP). It’s an interim satellite that’s expected to have a 5-year lifespan, and test out 5 key instruments: CERES, CrIMSS (CrIS & ATMS), OPMS, and VIIRS.

CERES is not referenced above, because sensors for Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System sensors have been in orbit on NASA EOS satellites since 1999, and existing designs can be used. CERES monitors the amount of energy emitted and reflected by the planet, our “radiation budget.” Really high numbers, for instance, characterize ice ages.

NPP was launched on Oct 28/11, and full control transferred to NOAA on Feb 22/13. It will help NASA manage its way forward with JPSS, and it will also provide useful data that’s broader and higher-resolution than the current POES. Suomi NPP observes any given point on the Earth’s surface twice a day – once in daylight, and once at night. It circles the planet in a north-south motion between the poles about 14 times a day, 512 miles above the surface. Once an orbit is complete, Suomi NPP sends its data to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway. The data is then routed to the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, MD, USA, where it is processed and distributed.

The Pentagon’s DWSS

The Pentagon, on the other, took until May 2011 to award an initial design contract for its Defense Weather Satellite. That contract remained with Northrop Grumman, and a plan for the USAF satellites was expected to follow by Q4 FY 2011. By Q1 2012, however, the question was whether there would be a plan, or satellites, at all. DWSS was canceled in April 2012.

The biggest sensor question mark in the wake on DWSS’ demise is the Microwave Imager Sensor (MIS), which measures solid moisture. That’s important if you need to know whether your heavy vehicles can move with confidence over a given area. It also provides data on temperatures, precipitation and sea surface winds. Could MIS follow the 2011 CHIRP launch of a commercially-hosted infrared payload? The industry’s Hosted Payload Alliance may hope so, but the devil is in the details, and success is not assured.

Contracts & Key Events

Unless otherwise noted, all contracts are issued to Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. in Redondo Beach, CA by the NPOESS Integrated Program Office in Silver Spring, MD.

FY 2011 – 2013

Suomi NPP launched & operational; JPSS moves forward; NPOESS/ DWSS settlement.

NPP VIIRS: Egypt 2012

NPP: De Nile
(click to view full)

Aug 23/13: Settlement. A $152.8 million settlement from the Pentagon, in order to close out the NPOESS contract and its spinoff, the DWSS. The contracts were terminated in April 2012, and:

“Formally incorporating these changes will also ensure that the contractor is reimbursed for all cost and fee associated with these changes.”

The sums break out as a $15.7 million increase in fixed-fee items and an estimated cost increase of $137.2 million, cover 12 outstanding contract changes. In technical terms, the outstanding items include REAs (requests for equitable adjustment); COPs (change order proposals); and ECPs (engineering change proposals), based on work that has already been done. USAF SMC/PKW at Los Angeles AFB, CA managed this contract (F04701-02-C-0502, PO 0193).

NPOESS termination settlement

Aug 12/13: Sub-contractors. NASA awards Raytheon another contract to manufacture a 3rd VIIRS system, for use on JPSS-2. The first one is already flying on Suomi NPP, and the 2nd has been ordered for JPSS-1.

The Visible Infrared Radiometer Suite instrument monitors features in the atmosphere, land, oceans, and cryosphere that include storms, fires, smoke, vegetation, sea surface temperature, phytoplankton, sea ice and snow cover. Sources: NOAA release.

June 27/13: JPSS. The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) passes its Program System Definition Review (P/SDR) and JPSS-1 Mission Preliminary Design Review (MPDR) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Instruments are almost done, the satellite is under construction, and the “Key Decision Point-C” and “JPSS program Key Decision Point-I” reviews are scheduled for summer 2013. A critical Design Review is scheduled for “early 2014,” and there will be another review in 2015. NOAA says the satellite is on schedule and on budget for the planned 2017 launch of JPSS-1.

The P/SDR is an independent review that evaluates the proposed structure of the program and finalizes the content, schedule and cost. The MPDR is a milestone for an independent review of the design of the JPSS-1 mission, including how the satellite, ground system, launch service, and operations all come together to achieve the mission objectives. Sources: NOAA release.

Feb 22/13: NPP. Operational control of NPP Suomi, the satellite designed as a risk-reduction project for JPSS, is formally transferred to NOAA.

October 28, 2011. In March 2012, Suomi NPP was commissioned and operations were transferred from the NASA Suomi NPP project to the NASA/NOAA JPSS program. Since that time, the Suomi NPP flight and ground teams at the JPSS program have worked to ensure the spacecraft, instruments and data products were operating successfully. NOAA began using data from one of the Suomi NPP instruments – the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder — on May 22, 2012, seven months after launch, nearly three times faster than previous missions.
Source: NOAA release.

Jan 18/13: JPSS. Raytheon touts the deployment of 2 backup JPSS Ground Control System sites, under NASA’s authorization, in advance of Hurricane Sandy. The backup GCS center is located at the Fairbanks Command and Data Acquisition Station in Gilmore Creek, AK. The emergency backup control center is located at the Raytheon campus in Aurora, CO. Sources: Raytheon release.

Jan 7/13: JPSS. Raytheon touts its JPSS Common Ground System (CGS), which was 1st deployed for NOAA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership in 2011. A 6-month contract added the Japanese Space Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Global Change Observation Mission 1 satellite

The CGS now supports Suomi NPP, GCOSM-1, JPSS-1 & 2, and the JPSS Free-Flyer mission, which will fly instruments that cannot be accommodated on JPSS satellites. Sources: Raytheon release.

Dec 11/12: POES win. NOAA touts a new study by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), who says that without information from polar-orbiting satellites, the NOAA forecasts of Hurricane Sandy’s track could have told people 5 days before the hurricane that it was going to remain out at sea. Instead, NOAA warned of landfall, and was right within 30 miles. The difference in warning time is not a small thing to the people on the ground. Sources: NOAA release.

April 12/12: The Defense Weather Satellite System contract is formally terminated.


Nov 21/11: NPP. Raytheon’s Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite has produced its first image aboard NASA’s NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite. The visible spectrum image covers a broad swath of Eastern North America from Canada’s Hudson Bay, past Florida, to the northern coast of Venezuela. The VIIRS data were processed at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility (NSOF) in Suitland, MD.

VIIRS is a designated survivor of the NPOESS project, and NPP will function as a 5-year bridge between current satellites and a new group of satellites known as the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). VIIRS is the primary JPSS instrument responsible for global imagery, land and sea surface temperature monitoring, cloud characterization and other key environmental data. See also Sept 30/10 and Jan 20/10 entries. NASA, incl. images | Raytheon release.

Nov 21/11: Northrop Grumman, under contract to develop the DWSS satellite (vid. May 24/11 entry), is using an Electrical Engineering Model Testbed to conduct the Satellite Integration and Test (I&T) processes much earlier than usual, solving problems when it’s less expensive, and reducing risk. The DWSS testbed is an electrical equivalent of the satellite’s avionics systems, sensor interfaces and processing.

Early Attitude Control subsystem (ACS) testing is currently underway, along with Flight software and flight-like engineering model hardware for the Command and Data Handling (C&DH) subsystem. Work can also proceed on sub-contractor products, such as the recently-arrived power switching units from Frontier Electronic Systems in Stillwater, OK, and remote interface units from SEAKR Engineering in Centennial, CO. Testbed engineers have already received engineering units of the Global Positioning System receivers. On a parallel track, Ground system flight software testing continues to advance, using Raytheon’s ECLIPSE product. NGC.

Nov 4/11: Death for DWSS? AOL Defense also says that rumors continue to swirl around DWSS:

“A source close to the program confirmed that the Pentagon wants DWSS to be killed to pay for other bills. More significantly this may mark a fundamental decision by the U.S. military to give up the pursuit of sophisticated new weather satellites for the foreseeable future and instead rely on [2 DMSP] satellites delivered in the mid-1980s. Those could be supplemented by newer sensors placed on other satellites to make sure the U.S. military does not lose crucial capabilities such as the ability to tell dust from clouds and to judge the firmness of soil and its ability to support heavy vehicles such as MRAPs and tanks. “They actually think they are going to walk away from this whole mission area,” said the source close to the program.”

Nov 3/11: Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson discusses rumors that the DWSS satellite program is slated for cancellation. Read “Air Force May Cut Weather Satellite, Crippling Future Military Ops.”

Oct 28/11: NPP. A Delta-II rocket blasts into orbit with the NPP satellite on board. NASA | NASA launch arc photo | NASA Spaceflight (unofficial).

Suomi NPP launched

Aug 8/11: NPP. NASA National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP) has successfully completed its most comprehensive end-to-end compatibility test of the actual satellite and all 5 scientific instruments (VIIRS, CERES, CrIMSS – CrIS & ATMS, OPMS) at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp’s production and test facility in Boulder, CO. During the 4-week NPP Compatibility Test 4 (NCT4), all segments of the ground system were assessed including active commanding of the satellite as well as monitoring the flow of both satellite health and safety and science data (both actual and simulated). NASA.

May 24/11: DWSS. Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems of Redondo Beach, CA receives a $427.9 million contract modification, commissioning them to to modify the NPOESS baseline to establish the Defense Weather Satellite System baseline. That means going back to design and development, including work to add Pentagon mission assurance and compliance requirements.

So far, the JPSS/DWSS split looks like it’s increasing program costs.

Work will be performed at Redondo Beach, CA. At this time, $11.6 million has been committed by the SMC/PKW at Los Angeles AFB, CA (FO 4701-02-C-0502 PO0145).

DWSS contract

FY 2008 – 2010

NPOESS ended and split in 2; NASA awards JPSS contracts.

NASA contract awards

Sept 30/10: JPSS. Raytheon announces 2 Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) contracts from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, with a combined potential value of more than $1.7 billion over the next 8 years. They replace previous government contracts worth approximately $1.4 billion.

Raytheon will, as NASA said (vid. April 9/10), build the JPSS Common Ground System to meet both civilian and defense weather needs. The JPSS Common Ground System award covers development of the command, control and communications segment; the interface data processing segment; operations and support; and system maintenance.

The 2nd contract will complete work on the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), replacing the NPOESS contract for the final integration of the 1st flight unit, and remaining efforts for 2 additional sensors. Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems VP Space Systems, Bill Hart, contends that:

“The experience we gained building the first VIIRS instrument has led to efficiencies in the development of the second flight unit… Development work on the second VIIRS flight unit is progressing consistent with the current funding profile.”

JPSS contract

Aug 16/10: DWSS. DoD Buzz:

“The Pentagon’s head of acquisition signed an Acquisition Decision Memorandum last week telling the Air Force to plow ahead and develop plans for a new weather satellite, one replacing the ill-fated NPOESS program. Ironically, the requirements for the new satellite – to be known as the Defense Weather Satellite – are the same as they were for NPOESS, according to a congressional aide… The final NPOESS divorce between the Pentagon, NASA and NOAA was ordered by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy after they concluded that the memorandum of understanding signed by the three government agencies would never be properly enforced.”

May 19/10: Pentagon Plan B? DoD Buzz:

“Ash Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, has told the Air Force to come up with alternatives to the deeply troubled NPOESS weather satellite program run by Northrop Grumman. He told me today that he issued a directive to the service about 10 days ago giving them 30 days to come up with alternatives and to provide some costs… today… the House Armed Services Committee voted to cut $300 million from the program, leaving a token $25 million in the kitty. Word from the Hill is that the other defense committees have finally and completely lost patience… and will move to cut most funding over the next few months.”

April 28/10: CrIS. ITT Corporation’s Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) passes thermal vacuum testing, to verify that recently reworked electronic parts will perform as designed in space. The system had passed its 1st complete thermal vacuum test in 2008.

CrIS will provide improved measurements of the temperature and moisture profiles in the atmosphere, improving weather forecasting and climate monitoring. The accuracy of hurricane intensity and storm tracks, for instance, are expected to improve dramatically. Current U.S. operational infrared sounders provide about 20 infrared channels to an accuracy of 2 to 3 degrees Kelvin. CrIS will provide more than 1,300 spectral channels, with calibration better than 0.1 degree Kelvin and accuracy of better than one degree Kelvin. Northrop Grumman adds that:

“Although the government announced its intention to restructure NPOESS earlier this year and is developing a transition plan, work on key elements of the program of record is continuing to avoid future gaps in weather and climate monitoring.”

April 9/10: JPSS. In FedBizOpps solicitation JPSS, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center discusses next steps under the restructuring of the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (NPOESS) program. The tri-agency organization was eliminated, and NASA would take over from the integrator, in order to have direct oversight and design/engineering input into the development and testing process. That would be followed by sole source contracts to the following firms:

* Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems – Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS)
* ITT Space Systems – Cross-Track Infrared Sounder (CrIS)
* Ball Aerospace and Technologies – Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS)
* Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems – Advanced Technology Microware Sounder
* Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems – JPSS/NPP Ground System.

“To insure the successful completion and launch of the JPSS spacecraft with no loss of continuity in critical climate and weather forecasting data, a requirement exists that NASA contract directly with the instrument and ground system developers, in order to have direct oversight and design/engineering input into the development and testing process and to insure that the necessary mission assurance standards are met. The above mentioned contractors are uniquely qualified for these contracts as they are currently developing and building their respective instruments and ground system… they are the only source that can ensure data continuity for weather and storm forecasting. No sources other than the existing instrument and ground system developers have the knowledge or capabilities… Award to any other source would cause unacceptable delays in fulfilling the agencys requirements. Statutory authority for this sole source procurement is 10 U.S.C. 2304 (c)(1) Only One Responsible Source. However, any organization who believes they can provide these items without any detrimental impact to the program mission should fully identify their interest and capabilities within 15 days after publication of the synopsis.”

JPSS program

April 1/10: SAR. The Pentagon does pull out of the NPOESS program, as confirmed by the April 2010 Selected Acquisition Reports:

“Program costs decreased $5,330.6 million (-47.9%) from $11,140.2 million to $5,809.6 million, due primarily to a quantity decrease of four satellites (from four to zero satellites) (-$5,737.6 million) resulting from a program restructure in which the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will no longer jointly acquire NPOESS. There was also a decrease due to the application of revised escalation indices (-$181.9 million). These decreases were partially offset by an updated estimate of the cost of the restructured program (+$582.1 million).”

The military is ending joint procurement, but the NOAA and Department of Commerce are expected to continue with it, supplemented by a European system called MetOp.

SAR program report

March 17/10: Space News reports that the U.S. government intends to terminate Northrop Grumman’s NPOESS contract.

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told the US House Appropriations commerce, justice and science subcommittee that the Pentagon’s acquisition chief had codified An agreement to this effect from NASA, NOASS, and the USAF in a March 17th memorandum of understanding.


Feb 1/10: The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy announces NPOESS’ restructuring, while referring to the system as “a national priority” and contending that “Independent reports and an administration task force have concluded that the current program cannot be successfully executed with the current management structure, and with the current budget structure.” The decision follows recommendations from an Executive Office of the President (EOP) Task Force, working since August 2009.

In response to those recommendations and findings, the program will be split. NASA and NOAA will be responsible for the afternoon orbit via the Joint Polar Satellite System, and the USAF will take responsibility for the morning orbit. A transition plan is being drawn up, and the European Space Agency’s EUMETSAT partnership will “remain a key part of our ability to provide continuous polar-orbiting measurements.” The USAF still has some Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) polar-orbiting satellites available for launch for the next few years, but NOAA launched its final polar-orbiting satellite in February 2009. As such, efforts will focus development of NASA and NOAA’s JPSS platform, with a plan for USAF satellites to follow by Q4 FY 2011.

The release notes that “The NASA developed and operating Earth Observing System (EOS) Aqua satellite and ground system are very similar in scope and magnitude to the proposed JPSS program.” It adds that some system appear to have matured:

“Significant progress has been made with the [NPOESS Preparatory Project], now with a realistic and achievable launch date of September 2011. A key instrument, the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), has been tested and shipped from the developers to NPP and can now be integrated onto the spacecraft. The Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) has been developed, integrated onto the NPP spacecraft, and tested for flight. The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) has been integrated and fully tested for flight. NOAA and NASA have taken advantage of the NPP opportunity to add the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument to NPP. This instrument has been integrated onto the spacecraft and tested for flight, thus ensuring the continuity of this critical data set beyond the NASA EOS (Terra and Aqua) missions.”

See: Space Flight Daily | U. Miss. School of Law’s Res Communis

NPOESS restructured again, split

Jan 20/10: Withdraw? Reuters reports that the Pentagon may be considering a withdrawal from the joint NPOESS program.

Jan 20/10: VIIRS. Northrop Grumman announces the delivery of Raytheon’s Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) to the NPOESS program. As part of the NPOESS system, VIIRS will provide highly detailed color imagery of clouds, vegetation, snow cover, dust storms and other environmental phenomena.

The sensor will be integrated on to the NPOESS Preparatory Project spacecraft, which will be launched in 2011. A second VIIRS flight unit scheduled for deployment on the first NPOESS spacecraft, known as C1, is “maturing steadily. Component production is in progress and build up of the sensor is on-going.” Northrop Grumman release.

Sept 10/09: Testing. Northrop Grumman Corporation announces that it’s beginning to an Electrical Engineering Model Test Bed (EEMTB) high-fidelity electrical model of the NPOESS satellite. It’s capable of “test as you fly,” real-time, closed-loop testing, and it use marks NPOESS’ transition to the final phase of spacecraft development.

The NPOESS MTB has been completed early, ahead of spacecraft integration and test, in order to provide early validation of the satellite’s electrical performance. New hardware will be integrated into it over the coming year.

July 20/09: ATMS. Northrop Grumman announces that its Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) has completed its Manufacturing Readiness Review (MRR), clearing the way for production.

The ATMS Flight 2 instrument is slated to fly on the first NPOESS satellite in 2014. It will provide critical microwave data, including atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles, to support weather forecasting. Northrop Grumman also builds the Radio Frequency Front End Modules, which enable ATMS to cover broad microwave frequencies from 23 – 183 Ghz, across 22 channels.

ATMS Flight 1 was completed in 2005 and has been integrated on the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite, which is scheduled to launch in January 2011.

May 20/09: Infrastructure. ALCAN Builders Inc. in Fairbanks, AK received an $11.7 million firm-fixed-price contract to construct the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Satellite Operations Facility, Fairbanks, Alaska. This project will replace the current operations facility with a new stat of the art facility, which will support the NOAA polar-orbiting satellite program.

Work is to be performed in Fairbanks, AK with an estimated completion date of Oct 30/11. Bids were solicited on the World Wide Web with 1 bid received by the U.S. Army Engineer District, Alaska at Elmendorf Air Force Base (W911KB-09-C-0018).

Feb 18/09: VIIRS. Northrop Grumman announces that the NPOESS’ first Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) flight unit, including both the OptoMechanical Module and the Electronics Module, passed vibration testing at Raytheon in early February.

Vibration testing is designed to ensure that the VIIRS science instrument will still work after the stresses involved in a rocket launch. Next comes the final test overall: an April 2009 thermal vacuum test designed to ensure that the satellite can survive the harsh space environment. The first VIIRS sensor is scheduled to fly aboard the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite, to be launched in late 2010.

Sept 25/08: Sub-contractors. Kongsberg Satellite Services AS announces a NOK 100 million (about $16.1 million) contract from Raytheon for operation of the NPOESS satellite program from October 2011 – September 2016. Kongsberg Satellite Services shall among other things offer services to the NASA NPP (NPOESS preparatory Program) satellite as well as the upcoming NPOESS satellites.

Kongsberg Satellite Services is owned by Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace (50%) and the Norwegian Space Centre (50%). The company has its main office in Tromso, and operates satellite control and data reception facilities in Tromso, Svalbard, Grimstad and in Antarctica.

Oct 31/07: GCS. Raytheon announces that they have worked with Northrop Grumman Corp. and the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Integrated Program Office (IPO) to successfully hand the NPOESS command, control and communications segment (C3S/GCS) over to the operations and support team. This milestone culminated more than 4 years of development, and includes all C3S hardware and software needed for the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) mission.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor and has overall responsibility for the program development effort; Raytheon IIS is part of their NPOESS team.

FY 2002 – 2007

From initial $4.5 billion contract to NPOESS replan and restructuring – $2.34 billion added.

July 30/07: A cost-plus-award-fee with multiple incentives contract modification for $2.34 billion. This modification will incorporate Engineering Change Proposal (ECP-13) Restructure to the NPOESS Acquisition and Operations Contract as directed by the NPOESS Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) dated June 5/06. At this time, no funds have been obligated. Work will be complete September 2016 (F04701-02-C-0502/P00072).

The key features of the modification are:

* 2 Engineering Manufacturing Development (EMD) satellites with a production option for 2 additional satellites.
* Revised fee structure with emphasis on incentives for cost, schedule and technical performance.
* The sensor suite has been reworked to conform to the ADM direction.
* 5 sensors were removed from the manifest to reduce risk.

July 30/07: Restructuring. Northrop Grumman Corporation announces that it has finished restructuring the NPOESS program plan, working in conjunction with the government’s tri-agency NPOESS Integrated Program Office. This represents the end of a rigorous year-long effort to re-plan virtually every aspect of the NPOESS program, and the Northrop Grumman-led team has now been on cost and on schedule for the past 21 months. Significant progress has been made, including:

* Completing testing on the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) engineering development model and starting integrated sensor testing on the VIIRS first flight unit;
* Completing key NPP spacecraft temperature and ambient tests;
* Developing initial versions of all the end-product environmental data record algorithms;
* Successfully commanding the NPP spacecraft using the NPOESS/NPP command, communication and control system in NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility;
* Completing development of the satellite and ground control system for the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), a risk reduction
* Completing 4 out of 5 planned iterations of the ground mission data processing software.

See NGC release.

Restructuring #1

April 9/07: The Pentagon releases its April 2007 Selected Acquisition Report, and NPOESS is one of the systems covered:

“Program costs decreased by $2,649.6 million (-19.2 percent) from $13,810.2 million to $11,160.6 million, due primarily to the decisions made as a result of a Nunn-McCurdy certification process that concluded in June 2006. The findings and recommendations coming out of the Nunn-McCurdy certification resulted in significant changes to the satellite procurement quantity, launch dates, sensor payloads, and funding. The Conical Scanning Microwave Imager/Sounder (CMIS) and seven other sensors were demanifested from the program (-$570.6 million), the development baseline program was restructured (-$506.2 million), the quantity of procurement satellites was reduced from 4 to 2 (-$594.5 million), the procurement baseline program was restructured (-$772.2 million), and the procurement costs were reduced due to the demanifestation of the sensors (-$292.1 million).”

SAR program report

July 10/06: A $18.4 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to incorporate ECP-11 trusted computer security evaluation criteria requirements; Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 8500, and federal information processing standards (FIPS) 140-2 into the national polar-orbiting environmental satellite system acquisition and operations contract. At the time of contract award, DoD Directive 5200.28 governed information assurance; DoD Directive 8500.1 governed information assurance and D0D instruction 8500.2 updated the standard for information assurance. DoD 8500 also cited another updated requirement for FIPS 140-2 security requirements for cryptographic module, which precludes the use of unvalidated cryptography for cryptographic protection of unclassified (sensitive or valuable) data in all federal systems.

Negotiations were complete in September 2005, and work will be complete April 2012 (F04701-02-C-0502/P00049).

April 3/06: CMIS. A $16.7 million cost-plus award fee contract modification covers an Engineering Change proposal to mitigate the adverse effects of radio frequency interference on the Conical Scanning Microwave Imager/Sounder (CMIS) instrument, stemming from man-made radio frequency transmitters on the ground. The modification will result in a redesign of the system to incorporate sub-banding. The CMIS is being developed by Boeing Satellite System (BSS), a subcontractor to Northrop Grumman Space Technology, and this change affects both satellites in the phase of this contract.

The National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service in Silver Springs, MD issued the contract (FO4701-02-C-0502/P00057).

Nov 18/05: Changes. Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. in Redondo Beach, CA received a $12.3 million cost plus award fee contract modification to the National Polar-orbiting Operating Environmental Satellite Systems (NPOESS). The Acquisition and Operations Contract will incorporate a Contract Change Proposal to transfer the Conical Scanning Microwave Imager Sounder (CMIS) momentum wheel compensation responsibility from Boeing Satellite System (BSS) to Northrop Grumman Space Technology.

The locations of performance are Northrop Grumman Space and Missions Systems Corporation, Redondo Beach, CA (51%) and Honeywell International Incorporated, Defense and Space Electronics Systems in Glendale, AZ (25%) (F04701-02-C-0502/P00054).

This is a small window into one of the changes now underway. The NPOESS Satellite design includes a large spinning reflector as part of the CMIS sensor, which requires Momentum Wheel Assemblies (MWAs) to compensate for the torque and momentum applied to the spacecraft. The baseline design had Boeing Satellite supplying the MWAs as part of the CMIS Sensor. However, during development of a CMIS radio frequency interference mitigation change, it was recognized that CMIS faults could result in spacecraft level faults. Trade studies revealed that if the spacecraft attitude control subsystem developed by Northrop Grumman performed momentum compensation for CMIS, CMIS-related anomalies would have lower impact on the overall mission performance.

June 2/04: SIMR. a $5.3 million cost-plus award-fee contract modification. This covers a Svalbard Initial Mission Recovery (SIMR) Modification to the NPOESS, to allow the Svalbard, Norway, ground station to recover data from the Navy’s Wind Sat/Coriolis mission, provide routing of mission data for NASA missions, and options to recover data for Commerces Polar Orbiting Operating Environmental Satellite mission. SIMR will also serve as a risk-reduction effort for the NPOESS preparatory project data reception and routing. Locations of performance are: Raytheon Co. in Aurora, CO, and Kongsberg Satellite Service as (subcontractor to Raytheon) N-9292 in Tromso, Norway. No funds have been obligated. Negotiations were completed May 2004, and work will be complete by October 2006 (F04701-02-C-0502).

Feb 13/04: Replan. A $391.2 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to replan the NPOESS acquisition and operations contract. This replan adjusts the program to match the funding profile by effecting the following schedule changes: availability of the NPOESS C1 satellite shifts from March 2008 to November 2009 and availability of the C2 satellite shifts from February 2009 to June 2011. This action also provides for 10 engineering changes that reduce technical risk and enhance system capabilities.

The locations of performance are Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. in Redondo Beach, CA, and other locations. No funds have been obligated. Negotiations were completed November 2003, and work will be complete by June 2011 (F04701-02-C-0502, P00026).

Sept 16/03: A $15.7 million cost-plus award-fee contract modification to provide for integration of the zone mapping profiler suite sensor onto the NPOESS preparatory project satellite scheduled for launch in FY2006. This flight will permit evaluation of critical sensor performance prior to the launch.

This effort will be performed by Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, CA (40%), and Raytheon in Aurora, CO (60%). Negotiations were completed May 2003, and work will be complete by November 2015 (F04701-02-C-0502, P00021).

Sept 27/02: Sub-contractors. TRW in Redondo Beach, CA receives a $48.7 million cost-plus award-fee contract modification to provide for design activities, including hardware and software modifications, necessary to incorporate the FT1394a data interface into the Crosstrack Infrared Sounder and the Visible/Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) Sensors supporting the NPOESS. This effort also includes integration of Redundant Dood Latches and Telescope Launch Locks into the VIIRS sensors.

The locations of performance are Raytheon Co. Electronic Systems, Santa Barbara Remote Sensing, in Goleta, CA (47%), and other locations. At this time, no funds have been obligated. Solicitation began September 2002, negotiations were completed in September 2002, and work will be complete by March 2005. The Headquarters Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, CA issued the contract (F04701-02-C-0502).

Aug 23/02: The Department of the Air Force, the Department of Commerce (DoC) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are announcing a $4.5 billion contract to provide for the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) acquisition and operation contract to TRW Space and Electronics. The acquisition and operation effort will include:

* Completing development of the NPOESS sensor payloads
* Sensors and integration support for the NPOESS Preparatory Project test mission
* Development and delivery of support, data processing and ground control hardware and software
* Development of the NPOESS space segment and integration with the launch segment
* Ongoing test, validation and calibration activities
* Production of two NPOESS spacecraft; and
* Operation of the NPOESS constellation through fiscal year 2011.

The contract includes options that provide for 4replenishment NPOESS spacecraft and operation of the NPOESS constellation from FY 2012 through FY 2018. The locations of performance are TRW Space and Electronics in Redondo Beach, CA (35%), Raytheon in Aurora, CO (27%) and other locations. At this time, $46 million of the funds have been obligated, and further funds will be obligated as individual delivery orders are issued. Solicitation began February 2002, negotiations were completed July 2002, and work will be complete by November 2015 (F04701-02-C-0502).

NPOESS contract

Appendix A: Stormy Weather – NPOESS’ Rocky Ride


join the club
(click to view full)

When dissatisfaction finally boiled over into crisis, NPOESS was one of several American satellite systems known for cost overruns, and the program was also noted specifically in the most 2005 DoD Selected Acquisition Reports for breaching Nunn-McCurdy cost growth caps.

Studies and reports eventually concluded that a large part of NPOESS’ problem was self-inflicted, stemming from a tri-agency “governance” structure that was unmanageable, and unable to reconcile different requirements or make good decisions in a timely manner. Technical challenges also contributed, and the program’s decision structure often made them worse.

While the ground-based component of NPOESS was on budget and on schedule, the same could be said of its sensors. Under the NPOESS program, 14 different sensors were being developed; 7 were new or modified designs, and the other half have designs similar or identical to already-built instruments. The new NPOESS sensors are intended to provide higher quality data, increase the satellites’ ability to see through clouds, and beam the information back more often than current polar satellites. Given that satellites provide over 90% of the data used in weather forecasting models, these improvements would translate into more sophisticated weather models, better forecasts, and earlier warnings.

That innovation came at a cost.

In a November 2005 hearing, Dr. Livanos of Northrop-Grumman estimated that fully 80% of the project delays and budget issues were sensor related. NOAA Administrator Vice-Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher (ret.), meanwhile, specifically noted the Raytheon-led Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) and the Boeing-led Conical Microwave Imager/Sounder (CMIS) as key potential areas for further cost and schedule risk.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert [R-NY] was more than slightly peeved:

“It is now clear that, almost from the outset, decisions were made with too little analysis of the technical challenges involved in building NPOESS. It is clear that contracts were awarded at prices that did not take into account the technical risks the program faced. And it is clear that the program was inadequately supervised, allowing problems to fester and worsen before being addressed. What’s not so clear is whether these inadequacies are behind us…”

For instance, one of the most controversial decisions at the time of those hearings was the fact that NOAA and the Defense Department apparently chose not to seek additional funding in FY 2006 and 2007. Yet prime contractor Northrop-Grumman testified that increased funds in those years would significantly reduce life cycle costs, help resolve looming technical problems sooner, decrease the risk of a gap in weather satellite coverage, and increase the chances that the NPOESS development program overall will be successful.

To add fuel to the fire, there have also been repeated and bipartisan complaints from the Science Committee that NOAA has withheld information on NPOESS in the past. NOAA (which is under the US Department of Commerce) attributed document delays to the slow inter-agency approval process, but pledged to do better.


David Powner, Government Accountability Office (GAO) Director of Information Technology Management Issues, told the Nov 16/05 hearing:

“NPOESS is a program in crisis… The current direction for the program is at a standstill, as options are being weighed to minimize cost overruns, schedule delays, and affects on users… Management problems at multiple levels – subcontractor, contractor, program office, and executive leadership – have contributed to these cost and schedule issues.”

Aviation Week reported that between the time the overruns came to light earlier in 2005 and the November hearings, the former NPOESS Integrated Project Office system director had resigned, prime contractor Northrop Grumman had replaced its NPOESS program manager, and Raytheon has brought in a new team to oversee the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Other changes include altering chain of command structures and the flow of information, increasing communication between Northrop Grumman and its subcontractors (over 70% of the program is subcontracted), and commissioning external reviews of the VIIRS component and the cost and schedule estimates for the program as a whole.

NOAA Administrator Lautenbacher said at the time that he was not convinced that more money was what the program needs in the short term, although he would be willing to ask for them in a supplemental budget request if the NPOESS executive committee deems it necessary. That line was held, and a 1-year restructuring took place in 2006-2007 in order to put the project back on solid footing.

That restructuring did more than change the way the project was managed. A number of planned sensors were removed from the program, lowering the final product’s capabilities but removing items that were creating cost and schedule problems. Fortunately, NPOESS is designed to host a wide variety of sensors on a common spacecraft bus. The satellites have power and deck space to accommodate growth, along with high data throughput and extremely accurate pointing and stability. This will allow the satellites to accommodate de-manifested sensors and future sensors at less cost, and the restructuring opens the door to re-integration of some of the removed sensors if time and funds permit.

In the end, however, a White House Office of Science and Technology report concluded that NPOESS’ management structure was unsalvageable, and the program could not be executed within its existing mandate and budget even if its governance changed. By the time that February 2010 decision had been made, the NPOESS Preparatory Project, a risk reduction satellite flying NPOESS sensors, had slipped from a 2009 launch to a late 2011 launch. It would be kept, but the NPOESS project would not, and neither would Northrop Grumman’s contract.

Nov 2005 DID Op/Ed: How About “Good Enough, and Working”?


(click to view full)

Given the level of difficulties experienced by this program to date, and the red ink in multiple US satellite programs, we’re surprised that a “cut-down NPOESS” option isn’t being floated as an alternative. The option of cutting new sensor arrays that are giving trouble and reverting to proven technologies might least be costed/scheduled out as a possible alternative in the reviews, as a potential option to help put the program closer to budget and possibly even back on schedule. With potential coverage gaps cited as a future risk, the schedule plusses alone could be decisive.

Then again, perhaps this option was floated. Northrop-Grumman’s Dr. Livanos:

“Earlier this year, as it became apparent the cost overruns associated with sensor development activity would exceed available reserves, we developed options for how to proceed with the overall program. We submitted more than 30 options to our customer and more recently, the Independent Program Assessment team, and anticipate receiving direction in early 2006 on the path forward.”

One would hope that a less-modernized NPOESS was one of those options, and that this option is receiving serious consideration. Budget funds are limited, and the USA’s consistent satellite program overruns are storing up long-term difficulties and cutbacks for other important areas of military modernization.

Some programs like SBIRS really are “no way out” options. NPOESS is indeed important, but we remain unconvinced that the marginal benefits described in Lautenbacher’s November 2005 Congressional testimony would really make enough difference on the ground to justify the costs, schedule, and even coverage risks that the required sensors are creating. For instance, even another 24 hours of warning – which would represent a huge capability improvement – would not have significantly changed the situation on the ground during Hurricane Katrina.

Additional Readings & Sources

* NOAA Satellite and Information Service – About Satellites.

* NASA – NPP: NPOESS Preparatory Project. Designed as a risk-reduction element of NPOESS.

* NOAA – Joint Polar Satellite System. See also “What is the Science Behind JPSS?

* Raytheon – Joint Polar Satellite System Common Ground System

* NOAA, via WayBack – NPOESS Project Home Page

Official Reports & Hearings

* US Congress, House Committee on Science (Nov 16/05) – Full Committee on Science – Hearing – Ongoing Problems and Future Plans for NOAA’s Weather Satellites [PDF]

* US Congress, House Committee On Science (Nov 16/05) – Written Testimony Of Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr. (U.S. Navy, Ret.) Under Secretary Of Commerce For Oceans And Atmosphere And NOAA Administrator, National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department Of Commerce [PDF]

* DID (Aug 4/05) – GAO Report: Satellite Programs Show Overruns Across the Board

News & Views

* Lexington institute (Nov 3/11) – Air Force May Cut Weather Satellite, Crippling Future Military Ops

* SpaceWar (2005) – NPOESS $3B Over Budget

* DID (Nov 21/05) – US DoD Releases Acquisition Reports for Deviating & Milestoned Programs

* European Space Agency (July 10/05) – Europe to launch its first polar-orbiting weather satellite. Their “MetOp” satellites will be operated in partnership with the NOAA’s polar weather satellite system. NOAA satellites will operate the ‘afternoon shift’ (i.e. cross the equator in the afternoon, local time), with the ESA’s MetOp taking over the ‘morning orbit’ service.

One Source: Hundreds of programs; Thousands of links, photos, and analyses

DII brings a complete collection of articles with original reporting and research, and expert analyses of events to your desktop – no need for multiple modules, or complex subscriptions. All supporting documents, links, & appendices accompany each article.


  • Save time
  • Eliminate your blind spots
  • Get the big picture, quickly
  • Keep up with the important facts
  • Stay on top of your projects or your competitors


  • Coverage of procurement and doctrine issues
  • Timeline of past and future program events
  • Comprehensive links to other useful resources