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Florida Today: Harris unveils Blue Origin partnership, while NASA investigates satellite camera problem

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

By James Dean

A malfunctioning Harris Corp. weather satellite camera is now the focus of a formal mishap investigation, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday.

Separately, Melbourne-headquartered Harris on Tuesday announced a partnership that could see satellite antennas made in Brevard County launch inside the cavernous nose cones of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rockets.

The camera problem relates to a next-generation weather satellite launched March 1 from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

NOAA in May disclosed a “serious problem” with Harris’ Advanced Baseline Imager instrument, or ABI, built in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The camera is the critical instrument informing weather models produced by the second in a batch of four Geostationary Operational Environment Satellites valued at more than $10 billion through 2036. It has flown without incident on one NOAA satellite, GOES-16, and two Japanese satellites.

Launched as GOES-S, the satellite built by Lockheed Martin was renamed GOES-17 in orbit and later this year is expected to begin serving the western United States as GOES West, replacing GOES-15.

NOAA reported May 23 that a cooling system problem had limited 13 of the camera’s 16 channels — those operating in infrared and near-infrared wavelengths — from working for more than half the day.

Troubleshooting efforts have apparently been unsuccessful.

On Tuesday, NASA said the issue amounted to a loss of 3 percent of the instrument’s availability over a year — exceeding a mission requirement.

A panel of five NASA engineers will try to identify the problem’s root cause and any fixes necessary before the scheduled 2020 launch of the next satellite in the series, GOES-T.

In better new for Harris, the company and Blue Origin, the space company led by the billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, on Tuesday touted a partnership that could see more capable communications satellites launched at lower cost.

Harris produces mesh antenna reflectors in a Palm Bay facility that are key to how much information a satellite can beam up or down.

Some antennas can be deployed to as large as 72 feet in diameter. But smaller fixed reflectors are limited to about 10 feet across to fit inside a typical rocket’s nose cone, or payload fairing.

Harris said it has developed a larger version, about 16 feet across, to take advantage of the “massive” fairings offered by New Glenn rockets, which Blue Origin says offers twice as much usable volume as existing fairings.

The heavy-lift New Glenn, featuring a reusable first-stage booster, will be built at Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Park and is targeting a first flight from Launch Complex 36 in 2020.

The two companies said the combination of more capable antennas and lower-cost launches could save customers $50 million or more, improving return on investment.

“Bigger has never looked better, or more affordable,” promotional materials read.

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