Orbiting since 1998, the Geodetic/Geophysical Follow-On (GFO) satellite program is vital to the Navy's ability to characterize the ocean environment. The Navy recognized an important milestone Feb. 10 by marking the eight-year anniversary of the GFO program, a highly successful satellite program that measures sea surface heights and wave height by using a radar altimeter. The satellite continues to provide critical meteorological and oceanographic (METOC) data to ships at sea and to a variety of modeling centers across the country.
"The GFO challenge was to deliver a sophisticated altimeter system at relatively low cost," explained Navy Lt. Cmdr. Therese Moore, the METOC space project manager at the Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Information Operations Program Office (PMW 180). "The small satellite approach has exceeded Navy's expectations. GFO data have proven critical to the Navy's characterization of the ocean needed for battlespace awareness. Although the satellite is starting to show its age, it continues to operate beyond its design life."
GFO provides considerable "bang for the buck" when compared to many commercial and government satellite programs. GFO's total on-orbit cost was $85 million, which included development, building the satellite, testing and launch. PMW 180, which reports to the Navy's Program Executive Office (PEO) for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence and Space, was responsible for the satellite's procurement.
The GFO transmits precise oceanographic information directly to Navy ships at sea and shore-based facilities. This small satellite was designed to enhance environmental modeling and effectiveness of weapon and sensor systems. Utilizing a space-borne altimeter, the GFO provides a highly efficient method for collecting the necessary information to support environmental predictions and to enhance warfighting capability.
GFO's ocean observation precision is within 3.5 centimeters, a standard that is critical both to naval planners and to oceanographers. Oceanography is vital to the success of anti-submarine warfare. The satellite also supports optimum track ship routing, ocean circulation and currents analysis, and monitors effects of tropical cyclones and severe storms for fleet safety at sea and storm surge in port.
Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the organization responsible for all Defense Department space and missile launch activities on the West Coast, the GFO encountered early difficulties with intermittent and periodic resets of its flight computer and global positioning system (GPS). To resolve the computer-reset problem, a series of software uploads were performed to update the on-board computer operating system. Challenges with GPS performance were resolved by using satellite laser ranging to provide precision orbit capability.
"The GFO team successfully delivered a highly sophisticated on-orbit capability for relatively low cost," said Jay Berkowitz, the former SPAWAR METOC Systems deputy program manager, who now serves as the METOC space-based sensing capability technical lead for the University of Texas at Austin (Applied Research Laboratories).
According to Berkowitz, the program management team followed a "hands-on lightly" philosophy that fostered an efficient work culture to ensure the project was on cost and on schedule.
GFO, the follow-on to the GEOSAT-A program, has been controlled by the Naval Satellite Operations Center, Point Mugu, Calif., since its launch in 1998. In addition to providing critical naval operations support, GFO remains fully operational and continues to provide support to NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and to a variety of academic communities.
The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, or SPAWAR, is recognized for its Office of the Chief Engineer who designs the architecture and standards for FORCEnet, the Navy's vision for network centric warfare.
SPAWAR teams with its PEOs to acquire, align and field more than 100 command, control, communications, computers and intelligence programs to make FORCEnet a reality.