Artist concept of QuikScat
Artist concept of QuikScat. Image credit: NASA/JPL

NASA has approved an immediate new start for the Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) mission and has placed the first delivery order issued under the Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (ID/IQ) contracts for rapid delivery of satellite core- systems to Ball Aerospace Systems Division, Boulder, CO. The ID/IQ procurement method provides NASA a faster, better, cheaper method for the purchase of satellite systems through a "catalog," allowing for shorter turnaround time from mission conception to launch.

The mission will fill in the ocean-wind vector data gap created by the loss of the NASA Scatterometer (NSCAT) on the Japanese Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS). The NSCAT instrument ceased functioning when ADEOS failed on June 30, 1997. The follow-on scatterometer for monitoring ocean winds, called SeaWinds, is scheduled for launch on the Japanese ADEOS-II spacecraft in 2000. QuikSCAT is planned for launch in November 1998, reducing the data gap by about one-half.

"The challenge levied to us requires the satellite, instrument, ground system, and launch vehicle be developed, integrated, and launched in less than a year, something that has not been accomplished before," said Jim Graf, the QuikSCAT project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA.

"To accomplish this extremely short schedule, the satellite was chosen from a source with existing satellite hardware and Ball was chosen under NASA's newly instituted Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contracts to be the spacecraft contactor," said Graf. "The instrument will be assembled by JPL from SeaWinds hardware spares."

QuikSCAT is planned for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, aboard a Titan II vehicle. Total cost for the QuikSCAT mission is approximately $93 million, including $39 million to Ball for the spacecraft and $22 million for the launch vehicle. JPL's cost to develop the instrument is $13 million. Congress approved NASA's use of fiscal year 1997 appropriated funds to undertake the mission.

QuikSCAT represents a unique collaboration between JPL and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. JPL's NSCAT/SeaWinds program office has been assigned the QuikSCAT management responsibility and will provide management, ground systems and a SeaWinds-type scatterometer instrument.

Goddard has been given responsibility to procure the satellite under the newly instituted ID/IQ, which enables a quick acquisition of a science bus to support NASA's space science, Earth science and technology needs. The award is the result of a competition among the eight contractors previously selected. This is the first of two spacecraft delivery orders expected to be placed in the first quarter of fiscal year 1998.

Ball will implement the QuikSCAT mission, which includes providing the spacecraft bus, integrating the JPL Scatterometer, and performing up to two years of observatory on-orbit operations.

QuikSCAT will use a rotating dish antenna with two microwave beams of the same design as SeaWinds. The antenna will radiate microwaves across 90 percent of the Earth's ice-free oceans every day. The instrument will collect wind-speed and wind direction data in a continuous 1,800 kilometer-wide (1118 mile-wide) band, making approximately 400,000 measurements each day.

As a parallel effort, NASA intends to issue a solicitation for scientific data to determine whether any such capabilities exist in the commercial sector. If such data were available it could have the potential to achieve cost savings or the added benefit of a back-up source of data if a problem were to arise with the QuikSCAT mission.

Measuring ocean winds is important because winds are a driving force for oceanic motions, ranging from small-scale waves to large-scale systems of ocean currents. Winds directly affect the turbulent exchanges of heat, moisture and greenhouse gases between the atmosphere and the ocean. These air-sea exchanges, in turn, determine regional weather patterns and shape global climate. Ocean winds data collected before the loss of NSCAT showed great promise in improving scientists' ability to forecast the movement of tropical storm systems -- one reason why NASA wants to bring this capability back on-line as soon as possible.

QuikSCAT will be managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, for NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth enterprise, a long-term coordinated research effort to study the Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment.

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