The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has awarded Orbital ATK a contract to design, produce and integrate up to three Joint Polar Satellite Systems (JPSS) satellites to provide critical weather forecasting data and to advance environmental and oceanographic science for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.



JPSS-2 to be built on Orbital ATK’s LEOStar-3 bus platform.

The contract includes a firm order for the first satellite, referred to as JPSS-2, valued at $253 million and options for two additional satellites, JPSS-3 and -4, valued at $217 million. The work will be performed at Orbital ATK’s satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Arizona.

The JPSS-2 satellite will provide operational continuity of space-based weather observations, extending the successful 40-year NOAA/NASA partnership into the 2020 decade and potentially the 2030 decade with the optional satellites. Under the new contract, Orbital will design and fabricate the JPSS spacecraft, integrate government-furnished instruments, conduct satellite-level testing, and support on-orbit check-out. While the company has completed numerous spacecraft for other scientific related missions, this contract marks Orbital ATK’s first weather operations mission.

The JPSS-2 spacecraft will be built on Orbital ATK’s LEOStar-3 bus, a flight-proven flexible satellite platform that can accommodate a variety of missions. Originated to support long-life missions, the standard, modular bus design incorporates improvements and upgrades from Orbital ATK's subsequent bus developments and their highly successful missions.

“We currently have eight operational satellites on orbit that are based on this LEOStar-3 platform,” said Daren Iverson, JPSS Program Manager for Orbital ATK. “It has shown to be very versatile and can support mission needs from one year demonstration missions to 10+ year operational life missions.  Most of those satellites have reached or exceeded their required on-orbit life time.”

Some of the satellites currently in operation include Digital Globe’s GeoEye-1 Earth Imager, and NASA’s Dawn and Landsat 8 satellites. NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (IceSat)-2, also built on the LEOStar-3 bus, is presently in production at the company’s Gilbert facility.

With the JPSS contract coming in on the heels of IceSat-2 production completion and the potential follow-on options for two additional JPSS satellites, this is the right time and right facility for the job. The Gilbert facility was designed for multiple vehicles to be processed simultaneously and has the capacity for upward of 6-8 medium class satellites to be in production at any given time.

“Three potential spacecraft of the same type being processed together is what this facility was built to do,” said Rick Kettner, Gilbert Site Manager for Orbital ATK. “This puts Gilbert in the sweet spot of what the business goals were when we started this facility. And if you go back to the acquisition of the Gilbert, Arizona business in 2010, this work fills a niche that the company was really looking to fill in with that acquisition.”

Orbital ATK has been working on the LEOStar-3 lineage for a couple of decades now and has a strong workforce who is well positioned to take on this next program.

“We have some people moving from Landsat 8 lineage or IceSat-2 lineage right into JPSS-2,” said Kettner. “It’s a perfect skill match for these individuals who have worked on our previous NASA programs. These consecutive wins are key for our workforce here in Gilbert to maintain continuity of skills and keep the teams moving forward.”

If the options for the two additional JPSS satellites are exercised, the continuity extends even further for the team. Following JPSS-2, the baselined launch schedule is at four year launch centers, meaning that after JPSS-2 launches, JPSS-3 will launch no later than four years later and JPSS-4 launches no later than four years after that.

“When you look at the contract in that vein, this is easily a 13-14 year program for Gilbert and Orbital ATK,” Iverson said. “This provides a huge base for this office to be able to create some stability for pursuing other missions and potentially offering those missions at a lower cost than if we didn’t have this base program in place. This contract was a strategic pursuit for the future of this facility.”

With the recent merger of Orbital and ATK completed, there are also some significant synergies that come into play with this contract award.

“A few of our baselined suppliers for JPSS-2 are legacy ATK businesses,” said Iverson. “We are expecting to get heat pipes from Beltsville, Maryland, the instrument deck from Magna, Utah, propulsion tank from Commerce, California along with other ATK products and locations. This is one of our division’s first real opportunities to work together as one entity.”

The JPSS-2 satellite will be delivered in 2020, while JPSS-3 and JPSS-4 will be delivered in 2024 and 2028, respectively, if NASA exercises those options. Each JPSS satellite will have a design life of seven years on-orbit.