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Three U.S. aerospace firms have each been awarded eight-month, $1 million contracts to conduct satellite definition studies for TOPEX, an oceanographic satellite mission proposed by NASA.

The three selected are Fairchild Industries, RCA Corp., and Rockwell International. Fairchild's Multimission Modular Spacecraft (MMS), RCA's Advanced Tiros (ATN) satellite, and Rockwell's Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, are all candidate designs for the TOPEX spacecraft.

TOPEX will provide at least three years of detailed ocean topography information for determining global ocean circulation. The mission is being planned by NASA's JPL for launch in 1989.

As cost-saving measure, the TOPEX spacecraft will be based on an existing satellite design, rather than built as new and unique spacecraft.

Based on common interest in using radar altimetry to study the oceans from space and long history of mutually beneficial cooperative projects, NASA and the French Space Agency (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales) have explored how they might conduct joint ocean circulation mission and subsequent science investigations.

NASA is therefore studying two options for the project: collaborative U.S.-French mission, which would be called TOPEX/Poseidon, and U.S.-only mission.

Each contractor shall study two satellite configurations for TOPEX, one for each option. The U.S.-only configuration will be designed for launch from NASA's space shuttle, while the U.S.-French configuration will be designed for launch from France's Ariane 4 launch vehicle.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is operated by Caltech for NASA.

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