high-quality image of typoon from Advanced Himawari Imager

What It Takes to Be the Next-Generation Weather Ground System

By Robert Basta, GOES-R Chief System Engineer
Oct 4, 2016

Thirteen years ago this November, Harris was awarded a one-year study contract from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to explore the application of our advanced ground data processing and command and control solutions for the nation’s next-generation geostationary weather satellite mission.

It was an exciting challenge. “GOES-R represents a quantum leap in the timeliness, quantity, and accuracy of remotely sensed meteorological data,” said Bob Henry, our business segment president at the time. With breakthrough space-based sensor capability collecting more data faster, we knew it would take a ground system equally transformational to deliver the advancements expected by NOAA and the nation.

Eventually, our enterprise ground system solution won us the GOES-R ground segment and systems integrator assignments. Our experience in large-aperture communication solutions led to our selection for the ground antenna segment contract as well.  Now installed, integrated, and tested, the complete GOES-R ground system is poised to help deliver a new era in weather forecasting.  

Here are three key attributes to look for in NOAA’s next-generation weather ground system.

1. Unprecedented Processing Capability and a Flexible Enterprise Architecture

Of all NOAA Earth-observing systems, GOES-R has by far the most demanding ground processing requirements. The ground system has to ingest, process, and distribute 10 times more data six times faster than the previous GOES system. To state this a bit differently, the instruments aboard one GOES-R satellite will produce more data in six months than all NOAA environmental satellites over the last 41 years!

But receiving and processing the continuous flow of imagery and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s Western Hemisphere—and space weather monitoring data as well—and then distributing the resulting products are only part of what the GOES-R ground system does. There is also mission management, which includes monitoring satellite and instrument operations, health, and safety; mission planning; and orbit control. Plus there is enterprise management, which NOAA calls the “glue” that links ground segment functions.

To support all of these functions, Harris designed a system that embraces the principles of enterprise architecture, like shared common services for infrastructure, monitoring, control, and security. Because the GOES-R Series Program (GOES-R through GOES-U) is expected to extend over the next 20 years, Harris designed the ground system to be highly scalable and flexible to accommodate growth and easily incorporate new sensors, science, and missions.

2. Ability to Evolve, Lower Life-cycle Costs

The GOES-R ground system requires a high-performance computing environment for processing the vast quantities of data from the satellite’s advanced instruments. Harris took this one step further by using commodity hardware to deliver the supercomputer power, making the system highly scalable (horizontally and vertically).

We also designed the ground system with a service-oriented architecture and open-standards interfaces. Coupling commodity components with this vendor-neutral architecture gives NOAA maximum flexibility for upgrades and technology refreshes, and it lowers life-cycle costs.

A plug-and-play software infrastructure allows new and/or modified algorithms to be inserted into the ground system enterprise without affecting operations. And an enterprise management dashboard provides transparency into all services within the enterprise and consolidates them for easier management.  

3. Multi-mission Capability

One of the key attributes of the GOES-R ground system is that it can support multiple satellite missions regardless of the type of Earth orbit. As a result, the system helps eliminate costly and inefficient operational stovepipes and redundant capabilities.

To enable this capability, we leveraged an off-the-shelf telemetry, tracking, and command solution with proven scalability. We designed the system architecture to be able to accommodate different mission requirements, allow for the quick integration of new capabilities (e.g., sensors, technologies, processing algorithms), and share those capabilities across an enterprise.  

The takeaway from all of this? The GOES-R ground system was built with evolution in mind. It is scalable, extensible, and extendable in order to adapt easily to new and innovative technologies that improve system performance and reliability. And it maximizes the use of commodity components and shared services for a lower total cost of ownership.

Read more about Harris’ involvement in the GOES-R mission.