FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The next time you take a look at weather satellite data, you can thank the hard work of the Fort Wayne branch of a global corporation. L3Harris has been a part of the Fort Wayne community for many years and is one of about 300 worldwide locations. This location works with the company to develop the imaging and sounding instruments that go as payloads on satellites up in space. L3Harris first began space-based meteorological observations in 1964 and became involved with NOAA weather satellites in 1978.

Background on the Fort Wayne Location

The company’s primary focus in Fort Wayne is on spectral solutions. The company works across spectral bands from visible to infrared for the tracking and detection of weather events. This is done by developing imagers for weather satellites. In other words, the viewing instruments for the satellites are developed right here in Fort Wayne.

As a new secondary focus, the same type of work is being done to assist in the United States’ missile defense program. They are beginning to develop viewing instruments that will detect and track missiles for defense purposes.

From Irene Lockwood in L3Harris’ Communication Department: Our founder (legacy L3Harris in Fort Wayne), Philo T. Farnsworth, the father of television, set-up shop on Pontiac Street in the early 1940s. At that time, Farnsworth was looking for a place outside of the crowded California landscape to move this fledgling company. The vibrant community he found in Fort Wayne, coupled with the craftmanship he saw in Capehart cabinetry and radio company, convinced him to set up operations in Fort Wayne. As Philo and his teams laid roots in the community, they continued to innovate and invent, transitioning their terrestrial movie camera to other platforms and eventually delivering the world the first images of weather from space as part of the 1957 NIMBUS mission. Over the following year the company continued to gain momentum resulting in a large win with the NASA/NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite contract in the early 1980s at which point the company moved to 1919 West Cook Road (which we occupy today). This move enabled the team to update and reinvest in technology to support their workforce and production for this next generation of missions.

Current Weather Instrument Projects

Daniel Gall, Chief Systems Engineer for L3Harris’s Geoweather Instruments, says the company has been working on the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) for the current Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites R (GOES-R) Series for quite some time. The contract was initially awarded in 2004 and the last satellite of this series will launch in 2024. So it is about a 20 year cycle of work on a given satellite series, plus an additional 15 years or so of monitoring and supporting the satellites in orbit.

The company was also awarded this spring the contract by NASA and NOAA for the next generation of geostationary imager called the GeoXO Imager (GXI), which will have advancements over the current generation. It will have eighteen spectral channels instead of the current sixteen. Three times the amount of raw data will be available and four times the amount of spatial resolution will be able to be seen on some of the existing spectral bands. Therefore, this imager will have a higher resolution and be able provide more detail for forecasters. In addition, a new sounder (GXS) is also being developed.

To gain some perspective, the resolution from geostationary satellites is the same as if you’re standing in New York’s Times Square and are able to discern the distance between the home plate and the pitcher’s mound at Wrigley Field in Chicago. That’s definitely mind blowing to imagine!

Weather Instrument Design Process

Weather instruments have a very long design process. It is important to get everything right, as the instruments have to operate in space for 15 years in orbit and are 22,000 miles away; they cannot be easily fixed once up in space. As a result, the design and testing process is very strict. The instruments have to be long lasting, reliable, and send back high quality data.

The whole process begins with determining a design concept that meets the needs of the customer. When this design is finalized, an extensive period of building and testing gets underway. There is a lot to consider when it comes to an instrument in space. Designers have to consider the temperature difference between being in the sun versus not in the sun in space. Imagers also have to be able to handle the intense light itself from the sun. As a result, a series of thermal vacuum tests are required; this is when instruments are put in a vacuum chamber and exposed to the hot and cold temperatures they will experience in their lifetime in space. Next come vibration tests, where a shaker table is used to simulate instruments going through the rocket launch. Then optical tests are conducted to simulate looking at the Earth from 22,000 miles away in order to ensure the images are in focus and clear. Instruments then are tested in a clean room to make sure air conditioners and air handlers are in the right condition. Finally, an instrument is taken to the spacecraft, integrated, and tested prior to launch. Once approval is given, the instrument is launched and engineers then continue to support the instrument once in space; there is a long period where they make sure the calibration and image quality is still up to standards during the lifecycle of orbit.

Future Developments and How You Can Get Involved

Most recently, the Fort Wayne branch is beginning work on a new geostationary imager and sounder to serve Japan in the coming years. In addition, the company is looking forward to an award to build a United Sates sounder hopefully in the fall. The company also hopes to expand internationally into Korea and other countries in the future. Finally, the company is excited for the work with missile defense that is underway and looks forward to the result of that work in the coming years.

The Fort Wayne location of L3Harris has over 500 employees. They are always hiring new engineers and technologists; they also have openings on the management and business side. You can develop world-class instruments that have a global impact on people’s lives. You can also present at international conferences. Visit this link for more information.

The company is also excited to be expanding the Fort Wayne location by creating a new building that focuses on instrument testing. The new building will be about 90,000 square feet.

If you would like to learn more about L3Harris, visit their website here.