10 www. bus- ex. com June 09 equipment will behave reliably in their final operating orbit. " At Sunnyvale we do two types of simulation testing," Vanden Beukel says. " When a rocket lifts off, it creates extremely loud sound pressure and intense vibration, which can damage hardware. We've constructed very large acoustic testing chambers that simulate the sound and vibration at launch. We also do thermal vacuum testing that replicates the environment the satellite will experience in space. We place the equipment in a chamber that is reduced to vacuum conditions, and then we subject it to the extreme heat and cold that it will experience during its orbit of the earth, as it cycles in and out of the sun." Testing has not always gone according to plan, though, and in 2003 Lockheed Martin experienced one of its greatest setbacks. While maneuvering the most recent satellite from a vertical to a horizontal position during the latter stages of testing, the craft slipped from its handling cart and crashed to the floor. " As a result, we had to do a top- to- bottom revamp of the program in order to repair the satellite as well as regain our customer's confidence," Vanden Beukel says. This could have delayed the launch of the satellite and destroyed the company's reputation for excellence. However, a huge effort was made to turn the program around. A new management team was brought in, and there was a complete review and tightening of practices at all levels of the organization. If anything, the program has emerged stronger from that experience. The satellite was rebuilt, tested and ready by the original launch date. " But in the end it turned out that because of the excellent performance of the preceding satellite, the government decided to put off the launch for another 14 months." The customer's confidence had also been regained. " One measure of that is that we get an award fee, so we have to satisfy the customer. Our latest two award fee ratings were 97 percent and 99 percent, which are extremely good scores." In addition, the company has benefited from the operational improvements and has much more consistent production schedules. Accidents apart, the most dramatic and nerve- wracking point in the lifecycle of any satellite is its launch, and Vanden Beukel is present throughout to oversee the process. The satellite is shipped to the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch site for a 60- day preparation that includes extensive end- to- end testing, both before and after connection with the launch vehicle. There are many challenges inherent in this part of the project, from maintaining cleanliness to managing and testing the many electrical and mechanical interfaces between the satellite and the rocket. NASA then takes over responsibility for the launch and for a 45- day verification of the craft once it has reached orbit, before it is handed over to NOAA, who then operates it. Over the 49- year lifetime of the weather satellite program, there have been considerable scientific and technological advances. Today's TIROS satellites are part of the POES ( Polar- orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite) program and consist of two orbiting the earth in a north-south direction over the poles. The satellites orbit earth roughly every 100 minutes, and as the earth rotates under the satellite, it effectively sweeps progressive segments of the earth, returning to cover the same segment twice each day. " The orbit is actually slightly inclined," explains Vanden Beukel, " so that it's what we call sun- synchronous, which means that it always returns to exactly the same spot at exactly the same time each day. So the data is always repeatable, day to day, and you can compare one day's data with another day's." The range of complex onboard instruments measure a large variety of variables including reflected solar and radiated thermal energy from the land, sea, clouds, and atmosphere across various spectra; atmospheric temperature and humidity; sea surface temperature; aerosol distribution; ozone concentration; and soil moisture data. This data is stored onboard the satellite and then streamed back periodically to networked ground stations, where it is processed by NOAA and then distributed to the relevant meteorological services across the United States and around the world. The contribution this makes to forecast reliability cannot be overstated. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are giant dynamos- cauldrons that brew the endless stream of weather systems that spread across the land masses of the world, affecting lives and businesses, and in some cases making all the difference between life and death, profit and loss. The POES system provides meteorologists with highly accurate data on the atmospheric and oceanic conditions in these important areas, which is then fed into the highly complex numerical weather forecast computer models, enabling forecasters to build up a four- dimensional picture ( including the timescale) of the weather being generated over the oceans long before it reaches land. This picture of the generation of weather systems is vital to medium- and long- range forecast capability. " Satellite data has certainly made the accurate five- day forecast a reality- something that is pretty much taken for granted now. And it has also become an extremely important tool in predicting severe weather," Vanden Beukel says. " In the past there used to be little to no warning of approaching hurricanes, for example. Now, with the help of satellite data we're able to give several days of warning." The forecasting services may be the main beneficiaries of this
Operational excellence: Lockheed Martin June 09 www. bus- ex. com 11 data, but NOAA also processes the information for a number of other vital uses including monitoring volcanic activity and areas of flooding, forest fire detection and ocean dynamics. The two satellites also carry instruments that look toward the sun and monitor space weather- information that's important for the safe operations of other orbital spacecraft. " And, of course, we provide continual earth climate information for those studying climate change," Vanden Beukel says. These days, NOAA works in partnership with its European counterpart, the EUMETSAT organization. " The NOAA satellites handle primarily what we call the afternoon orbit," explains Vanden Beukel, " while the European METOP satellite handles what is known as the morning orbit." This partnership has a number of operational benefits. The so-called morning orbit provides a detailed picture of the Atlantic Ocean, which is the primary driver for weather in Europe, and the afternoon orbit is better suited to data on the Pacific Ocean, which is the primary driver for US weather. The role of the satellites has also expanded to encompass more than weather- related tasks. They now carry two further payloads of equipment. The first is a search- and-rescue payload, for a system operated jointly by the US, France and Russia. " The satellite picks up signals from downed aircraft, boats that are in trouble or people that carry a locator beacon. The information is then relayed to the search- and- rescue teams," Vanden Beukel explains. Over the lifetime of this system, it has helped save an estimated 24,500 lives. The second payload is essentially a data collection service, picking up radio signals transmitted from remote platforms such as weather data from deep-ocean buoys or signals from animal tracking tags. All in all, the satellite program has had a significant impact on lives and livelihoods around the world. " And I would like to emphasize how proud we are as a team of our role in producing this product," Vanden Beukel says. When it comes to commitment, this is perhaps best illustrated by the team's collective response to the accident in 2003, by the efforts of every individual- from factory floor to management- to get the program back on track and ensure that it emerged stronger and wiser. " We place the equipment in a chamber that is reduced to vacuum conditions, and then we subject it to the extreme heat and cold that it will experience during its orbit of the earth, as it cycles in and out of the sun"