The U.S. Department of Defense plans to complete a study this fall on options for replacing a long-running constellation of weather satellites, according to the Air Force.

The study, known formally as an Analysis of Alternatives (AOA), could pave the way for procurement of a Weather Satellite Follow-on (WSF) system to succeed DOD’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), whose spacecraft have been collecting weather data for U.S. military operations for decades.

To reduce risk for a potential new system, the WSF program office has been pursuing “targeted development projects” while it conducts the AOA, the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) said.

Recipients of risk-reduction contracts have included ATK (network-centric small satellites), Ball Aerospace (microwave sounding and imaging instruments), Harris Corp. (ground systems), ITT Exelis (advanced digital receiver) and Space Systems/Loral (placing advanced meteorological sensors on commercial satellites).

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program was supposed to replace DMSP, well as NOAA’s Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES), but was killed in 2010 after spending $5 billion without launching a single satellite. NOAA is now pursuing a separate system, the Joint Polar Satellite System, to replace POES.

In a recently released “white paper” on future space architectures, Air Force Space Command concluded that the NPOESS program tried to do too much.

“[C]omplexity associated with integrating multiple, diverse sensors on a single platform grew to be so expensive and difficult to manage that the program was canceled, opening the possibility of a future gap in capability,” the white paper says.

Another attempt to replace DMSP, the Defense Weather Satellite System, was deemed too risky by Congress and was terminated in 2012.

SMC said the WSF program is taking steps to avoid repeating the problems of earlier DMSP replacement efforts.

“DOD has incorporated many lessons learned from prior programs into the WSF strategy,” SMC told “Legacy system capabilities will be stressed rather than significant performance improvement, with a goal to be as affordable as possible.”

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Marc Selinger is a journalist based in the Washington, D.C., area. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @marcselinger.