Next generation of Fort Wayne-built satellite instruments begins reaching orbit

February 25th, 2016

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February 25, 2016

Next generation of Fort Wayne-built satellite instruments begins reaching orbit

Bob Caylor

This Advanced Baseline Imager, designed and assembled in Fort Wayne, is part of seven satellites that Harris Corp. is supplying to the United States, Japan and South Korea. (courtesy photo)
The next generation of weather satellites, including an advanced imager designed and assembled in Fort Wayne, are starting to reveal new detail to improve weather forecasting and analysis.

The first satellite that incorporates the new imager was launched from Japan in 2014 and became fully operational last year. The first of the U.S. satellites carrying the Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, from Fort Wayne is scheduled for launch in October, said Paul Griffith, chief solutions engineer at Harris Corp.

Helping to equip weather satellites has been a mainstay of Harris and its corporate ancestors, Exelis and ITT, in Fort Wayne for decades. The current generation of GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) was launched in the 1990s, Griffith said. The work of developing the units now being launched, the GOES-R series, began in 2001.

“The people who designed the imager started from scratch,” Griffith said in an interview.

Harris officials declined to discuss the cost of the ABI, but designing, building and testing the eyes of this generation of GOES satellites involved more than 200 of the roughly 450 people who work at Harris Corp. in Fort Wayne, Griffith said.

Eighteen people did the initial, fundamental design for the lens, mirrors and sensors that comprise the ABI, Griffith said. The ABI can penetrate the atmosphere with up to 16 different views provided by different wavelengths of light, according to NASA.

More than 100 people played roles in completing the design of the orbiting observation instrument, Griffith said. About 40 people are involved in assembling the ABI, and another 60 or so have been testing the units.

They’re still at work on this project that began 15 years ago. Griffith said seven satellites using ABIs eventually will take to orbit. Japan, which has launched the only one deployed yet, will get a second. The U.S. will get four satellites with ABIs. Two already have been delivered, he said. And South Korea will get one.

The reason Japan has the new imager ahead of the United States is that the U.S. is incorporating much more instrumentation in its next generation of these weather satellites. According to NASA, the U.S. GOES-R satellites will include lightning-strike detectors to monitor and map lightning.

Besides mapping lightning strikes, the U.S. satellites will monitor radiation in orbit, the earth’s magnetic field and solar activity.

The detail in the satellite images and the contrast between different air masses, depicted in GOES images as different colors, enable weather scientists to distinguish boundaries between air masses, Griffith said.

Seeing the boundaries where air masses meet is crucial to weather forecasting, he said. “It’s really at the boundaries where weather gets produced,” Griffith said.

Griffith ran through some of the benefits new ABI should bring when all the GOES-R satellites are deployed:

*More detailed information on weather systems will improve near-term forecasting. “Three-day forecasts should be much more accurate,” Griffith said.

*Landfall predictions for developing hurricanes should be more closely pinpointed, reducing areas where authorities urge or order evacuations.

*Better tracking of developing severe storms should provide for more accurate warnings.

*Superior mapping of volcanic ash should help steer airplanes away from these plumes of particulate matter that can damage engines.

*Sharper estimates of precipitation should help with calculating flood risk and the severity of droughts.

And for engineers and scientists who can see the horizon, there’s sure another generation of satellite instruments to imagine and to plan.

“That is work that is going on inside Harris,” Griffith said.
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