Executive Spotlight On... Stephen T. O'Neill
Boeing Satellite Systems International, Inc.
As our editorial staff mulled over recent and upcoming developments within the satellite imagery environs, the GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites) warranted a close look. GOES-O and -P are on track to launch later this year and in 2009, and until they join their companion satellite on orbit, certain specifications of this system cannot yet be brought to open publication. Certainly the successful GOES-N is worthy of attention… and such brought to mind Boeing Satellite Systems International, Inc.. Fortunately for SatMagazine and our readers, the President of Boeing Satellite Systems International, Inc. Stephen T. O’Neill, was available for an interview.
Mr. O’Neill is responsible for the general management of commercial and civil communications satellites, as well as program oversight for such programs as DIRECTV, Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV), ProtoStar II, Spaceway, TDRS, and Thuraya. He has 30+ years of experience in the aerospace industry, principally in satellite and launch vehicle programs. This experience included engineering, manufacturing, program, supplier and business management, as well as business development. O’Neill served in the U.S.A.F. and piloted B-52 and T-38 aircraft. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy with a B.S. in Engineering and a MBA from the University of Northern Colorado.
Mr. O’Neill, Boeing is a huge company and sometimes there is public confusion over who does what to which division. What is your role as President of Boeing Satellite Systems International, Inc.?
I oversee the design, integration, and testing of communications satellites and payloads for commercial telecommunications, scientific, and environmental applications. Since 1961, Boeing has developed and produced advanced space and communications systems for military, commercial, and scientific uses. These systems supply communications and meteorological observation technology for domestic and international customers and meet many of the military and civil space system requirements of the U.S. government.
The world’s first geosynchronous communications satellite, Syncom, was built by Boeing and launched in 1963. Today, nearly half of the commercial satellites in geosynchronous orbit were built by Boeing at the Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, California, the world’s largest satellite manufacturing factory.
Boeing’s spacecraft routinely relay digital communications, telephone calls, videoconferences, television news reports, facsimiles, television programming, mobile communications, navigation and location services, Internet connectivity, and direct-to-home entertainment.
We are in the second month of the hurricane season and it is quite fitting we focus on weather satellites in addition to our commercial satellite systems coverage. What has been Boeing’s role in building weather satellites?
Starting with the launch of the first Applications Technology Satellite in December 1966, Boeing has 42 years of experience in building weather satellites. In fact, more than half of all GOES satellites ever built have been manufactured by Boeing.
Boeing has also built space-based weather instruments with the ability to provide timely and accurate meteorological information about ocean systems, storms, and the effects of tropical and polar weather patterns on the rest of the world.
We’ve come a long way in the past four decades—from a satellite that provided the capability to photograph earth with a spin scan cloud camera, boasting “new” color television transmission, and a demonstration of multiple access capability with several ground stations, simultaneously—to the GOES-N series, the next generation of Earth Observation Satellites.
Our latest weather satellites for NASA and NOAA are the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites: GOES-N, GOES-O and GOES-P. These satellites are collectively known as the GOES-N series. The GOES-N series consists of three, state-of-the-art imaging spacecraft and the supporting ground command and control elements. Designed and manufactured at Boeing’s Satellite Development Center, the GOES-N series spacecraft are based on the three-axis Boeing 601 model satellite.
The GOES-N satellite, known today as “GOES-13,” was launched on May 24, 2006. GOES-13 was handed over to the customer after six months of rigorous testing that was administered by NOAA’s Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. GOES-O is scheduled to launch later this year. GOES-P is scheduled to launch in 2009.
What are the GOES-N, GOES-O and GOES-P satellites designed to do?
The GOES-N series satellites will provide more accurate prediction and tracking of severe storms and other weather phenomena. This will result in earlier and more precise warnings to the public. Supporting NOAA and NASA scientists through the collection and analysis of real-time environmental data, as well as assisting the U.S. Coast Guard and their search of the open seas, GOES-N is the most advanced, multi-mission weather and earth observation satellite ever built.
Mr. O’Neill, what are some of the improvements of the new GOES-N series weather satellites over previous GOES spacecraft?
The spacecraft will improve image accuracy by a factor of four through the use of a geosynchronous star sensor attitude determination and control system named the “Star Tracker.”
The GOES-N series incorporates an advanced, stellar inertial attitude determination and control system. This system reduces the recovery time after station keeping propulsion maneuvers to less than 10 minutes. Previous GOES I-M satellites generally require hours to complete such maneuvers. The result is the greater availability of the satellites.
Using the stable GOES-N series instrument platform and advanced stellar inertial attitude control system, the GOES-N series bus was designed to improve the performance two- to three-times with the same instruments as those resident on GOES I-M. This translates into much better prediction accuracy on storm location and motion. Additionally, The GOES-N series spacecraft feature a more advanced onboard processor that will provide more autonomous operation and automatic fault detection and correction. This translates into greater satellite availability and a reduced burden on ground operators.
What are the end benefits of the technology provided by the GOES-N series?
There are many. To boil it down, atmospheric phenomena can be better tracked, ensuring real-time coverage of short-lived dynamic events, such as severe local storms and tropical hurricanes and cyclones. These are two meteorological event types that directly affect public safety, property, and, ultimately, economic health and development.
What do you feel is the importance of GOES?
GOES is one of those unique programs that touch the lives of every person. When you watch the nightly news or read the daily newspaper, the weather predictions are based largely upon imagery provided by the GOES satellites. People depend on accurate weather information— and the depth of leadership and knowledge at NASA and NOAA will ensure the information the public receives continues to increase in terms of accuracy.
Boeing recognizes the importance and critical importance of the GOES mission. Timely and accurate weather forecasting provided by the GOES system benefits people everywhere. Hundreds of lives are saved annually as a result of the Search and Rescue system enabled by the GOES satellites. Boeing is proud of our contributions to this system over the years, which date back to the launch of ATS-1 in 1966 and continue today.
By all accounts, the GOES-13 satellite is performing well. To what do you attribute to the success of GOES-13?
Mission assurance is at the heart of how Boeing builds satellites—and GOES-N, which became GOES-13, when it entered operations—is a superb example of Boeing, NASA, and NOAA working together to execute with surgical precision.
NASA and NOAA brought the best of the industry to bear on developing the most sophisticated meteorological satellite ever built— we are committed to the continuing success of the mission.
Our relationship with NASA and NOAA spans more than four decades. This is a relationship we value and hold in the highest regard.
Finally, Mr. O’Neill, what’s on the horizon for Boeing’s work with weather satellites?
First, we want to make sure the next two satellites in the GOES-N series (GOES-O and GOES-P) are placed into orbit safely and perform just as well as GOES-N. In March, Boeing submitted a proposal to NASA for the production of the two next generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, known as the GOES-R series, for NOAA.
We believe we can leverage the success, momentum, and experiences of the Boeing-built GOES-13 - and its two sister satellites, GOES-O and GOES-P, to provide NASA and NOAA with a low-risk solution for GOES-R.
Thank you for your thoughts, Mr. O’Neill. I hope that we can learn more about GOES-O, -P as they approach firm launch dates, and we’ll stay tuned to learn the outcome of the GOES-R competition.