When they're not building missiles and fighter jets for the government, Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. will be trying to improve weather forecasting.

The three large defense contractors each won a $10 million, six-month contract from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the definition and risk reduction phase of the country's next-generation weather satellite system, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R. The awards carry a six-month option and a 10-month option for subsequent phases of the program.

Under the contracts, the three companies and their teammates will lay the groundwork for the new satellite system. They will compare the performance and cost of alternative system architectures, determine system requirements and operations functions, and produce system and segment designs to be developed in the program's subsequent phase.

The GOES program, which began with the launch of its first satellite in 1975, provides continuous monitoring of meteorological conditions in the Western hemisphere. The two active GOES spacecraft operated by NOAA also track the space environment, receive and transmit search-and-rescue data and relay ground-based environmental data.

The GOES R series satellite program is a project upgrade that will provide continuous, near real-time meteorological, oceanographic, solar and space environmental data for NOAA. GOES, scheduled for launch in late 2012, would collect 100 times more data and scan the Earth three to five times faster than previous satellite systems.

Lockheed Martin's space systems sector will perform the work on its contract in conjunction with the Bethesda-based company's integrated systems and solutions unit and 15 industry and academic partners. The space and mission systems sector of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman has joined forces with Raytheon Co. And the team led by Boeing Satellite Systems Inc., part of the Chicago-based aerospace company, includes Harris Corp., Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc. and Carr Astronautics, Inc.

Roseanne Gerin is a staff writer with Washington Technology. For more details on this and other technology contracts, go to www.washingtontechnology.com.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are to carry out work on the new GOES R weather satellite.