Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Ball Aerospace & Technologies has been awarded $255.4 million by the U.S. Air Force for development and manufacturing of the Weather System Follow-on Microwave Space Vehicle 1.
The contract, announced Thursday by the Department of Defense, is an option exercised under an existing contract, with work expected to continue through January 2023.
Air Force fiscal 2018 research, development, test and evaluation funds are being obligated to the company, with the option raising the cumulative value of the contract to $350 million.
The WSF-M space vehicle is a joint project between Ball and Harris to provide orbital monitoring of weather and environmental conditions in support of military operations. It uses a passive microwave radiometer to measure the strength of electromagnetic radiation and is useful for weather and temperature mapping.
The WSF-M is being fielded to fill three capability gaps in current monitoring systems, including ocean surface vector winds, tropical cyclone intensity and measuring of so-called "space weather" involving solar and cosmic radiation.
Orbital radiation can affect satellites and communication systems and in high strength can even affect other electrical equipment on the ground, making it a concern with the increasingly digitized, networked and satellite dependent U.S. military.
Microwave radiometers have long been used for weather and surface condition monitoring by the military and civilian agencies like the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
The WSF-M is mounted on the Ball Configurable Platform space vehicle, which is designed to mount multiple payload types and be easily repositioned in orbit for monitoring specific areas of the Earth's surface and to avoid potential orbital hazards.