DIU, AFRL announce weather sensing prototype awards

By Michael Marrow / October 27, 2022 at 12:30 PM

The Defense Innovation Unit and Air Force Research Laboratory are teaming up to improve the Defense Department's weather sensing capabilities through a set of prototype contracts awarded to five commercial companies.

The prototype agreements will award contracts of undisclosed dollar amounts to Greensight, Muon Space, NextGen Federal Systems, Tomorrow.io and Windborne Systems to improve global situational awareness and analysis as well as physics- and machine learning-based weather models, DIU announced yesterday.

Each company has unique platforms DOD is seeking to leverage to provide missing capabilities.

Greensight, for example, provides nano-sized drones to measure atmospheric conditions; Muon Space manufactures and operates small satellites and other scientific instruments to measure climate fluctuations; NextGen will develop a machine learning prototype that will collect and analyze commercially available weather data; Tomorrow.io will mount microwave radiometer sensors on low earth orbit satellites to analyze weather; and Windborne will deploy smart balloons for further weather monitoring, according to the announcement.

The prototype agreements -- which were awarded at the end of fiscal year 2022, according to a DIU spokeswoman -- come as the Space Force is aiming to replenish the aging Defense Meteorological Satellite Program constellation with two separate programs known as the Weather System Follow-on and Electro-Optical/Infrared Weather System, or EWS.

After wrapping up full system and cybersecurity tests, the first of two WSF satellites is scheduled for a September 2023 delivery, Inside Defense reported yesterday. The EWS initiative, having previously awarded General Atomics, Astra and Raytheon prototype contracts, intends to eventually build out a LEO mesh network with launches set to begin in FY-2025, the Space Force’s FY-23 budget documents say.

The Navy’s Program Executive Office for Digital and Enterprise Services used DIU’s Commercial Solutions Opening’s contracting process for the program, DIU stated in the release. It’s the first time an outside contracting organization has done so, DIU added, an approach the organization wants to push across the Pentagon to field cutting-edge technology more quickly.

“DIU hopes this could be a new model for scaling the use of CSO throughout the rest of the DOD and potentially more broadly across the U.S. Government,” the announcement says.