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Utah State Signs New Partner as Sensor Deal with GeoMetWatch Unravels

NASA and NOAA are scheduled to launch the first ABI instrument in 2016 aboard GOES-R. Credit: Lockheed Martin artist's concept

PARIS — Venture-capital firm Tempus Global Data has taken over the job of commercializing Utah State University’s hyperspectral sounder instrument as a hosted payload on a commercial telecommunications satellite after a falling out between the university and its former partner, GeoMetWatch, university and Tempus officials said March 31.

Tempus Chief Executive Alan Hall, while acknowledging that he will have to move fast to meet a deadline on the prospective initial commercial satellite host, said he is confident of Tempus’ ability to raise the approximately $150 million it will need to place the STORM — Sounding & Tracking Observatory for Regional Meteorology — aboard Hong Kong-based AsiaSat’s AsiaSat 9 satellite.

Hall declined to disclose the company’s strategy in attracting strategic partners to the project, which ultimately seeks to place the 300-kilogram STORM instrument on six geostationary-orbiting spacecraft for global coverage.

Scott Jensen, director of Advanced Weather Systems at the university, said his group is scrapping its agreement with Las Vegas-based GeoMetWatch and dealing exclusively with Tempus.

“We had a relationship with GeoMetWatch that did not pan out,” Jensen said. He said Tempus is in the final stages of securing a Remote Atmospheric Sensing license from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which, combined with the exclusive license from the university, will permit Tempus to approach prospective investors.

The STORM instrument is a derivative of the Geosynchronous Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer built as part of a former NASA program. The program was canceled and the sensor never flew.

GeoMetWatch and AsiaSat had concluded an agreement under which AsiaSat would finance the construction and launch of AsiaSat 9, including the STORM sensor, on condition that GeoMetWatch secured financial guarantees equivalent to the total STORM investment, which was estimated at around $170 million.

GeoMetWatch Chief Technology Officer David Crain, who is also the company’s founder, said in mid-March that the amount of collateral demanded by AsiaSat had proved more difficult to secure than predicted.

AsiaSat Chief Executive William Wade said the company’s AsiaSat 9 satellite, under construction at Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and scheduled for completion in mid-2016, would make a nice fit for STORM but that financial hurdles needed to be cleared without threatening AsiaSat 9’s schedule.

GeoMetWatch had shuffled its management team in recent months to better position the company to nail down the financing.

Jensen said the university’s relationship with Tempus was formalized in March. On March 26, GeoMetWatch announced that it had entered into an agreement with Exelis of McLean, Va., to design a hyperspectral sounder to be placed on a commercial telecommunications satellite as a hosted payload — the same apparent business plan with a different manufacturer.

“Our design is based on the very successful Exelis Advanced Baseline Imager,” or ABI, Exelis Weather Systems Director Eric Webster said in a March 26 statement announcing the GeoMetWatch agreement. “We are under contract for seven ABI-class instruments, two of which we delivered last year, so this effort fits nicely into our production line and offerings.”

NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are scheduled to launch the first ABI instrument in 2016 aboard the U.S. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R.

Hall said GeoMetWatch appeared not to have the management to secure the needed financing, but that Tempus’ relations with venture-capital companies and others should open enough doors to be able to make the AsiaSat 9 deadline. If that satellite’s schedule is too tight, he said, there are other potential host candidates among commercial satellite operators.

The basic idea behind the commercial STORM program is that it will provide a sufficiently large advance in atmospheric measurements to prospective government and nongovernment customers that the venture will be able to sell the data.

Most current meteorological weather data are provided free of charge by governments. Tempus argues that STORM will provide data quality that is not being provided on current or planned U.S. meteorological satellites.

Crain declined to comment for this report.

 

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes


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