Success Stories

In the forecast: more success for ABB, improved weather predictions for everyone

The NASA's Crosstrack Infrared Sounder, or CrIS, represents a major breakthrough in satellite weather sounders—instruments that profile temperature, pressure and humidity in the atmosphere. When combined with pictures provided by satellite imagers, data generated by sounders give meteorologists the information they need to predict weather more accurately.

ABB's business unit, located in Quebec City, played a major role in the success of the CrIS by developing a prototype of a more efficient interferometer for the Fourier Transform Spectrometer, or FTS. Spectrometers like the FTS split light into separate frequencies just as a prism splits light into separate colors. The separated light frequencies are then analyzed so as to identify and quantify constituents in the atmosphere. An interferometer is an instrument that uses interference patterns to accurately measure wavelengths of light.

Space Technology Development Program (STDP) contract opens the door for ABB

Developed as the result of a $150,000 contract with the Canadian Space Agency's Space Technology Development Program (STDP), ABB's dynamically aligned interferometer modulates infrared light, allowing the simultaneous measurement of its intensity over thousands of different wavelengths, a key feature of the FTS technique.

While the project was completed during the early phases of the CrIS program, the device remains a consistent contributor to the success of the entire mission. It has confirmed the wisdom—and the ongoing value—of employing FTS technology for space weather sounding applications.

ABB's accomplishments generating more business

ABB contributions to the revolutionary CrIS have not gone unnoticed. Designing, developing, building and demonstrating its interferometer has resulted in approximately $50 million in contracts in the CrIS program over 15 years—a 300-fold return on the initial STDP investment. With this program, the technology behind the interferometer has become a viable and healthy presence in weather observation from space.

CrIS meeting all expectations

Launched in 2011 aboard a weather satellite—now known as the Suomi National-Polar-orbiting Partnership mission, or Suomi NPP—the CrIS also promises to give scientists new information about the earth's atmosphere. After completing its commissioning phase early in 2012, the CrIS operation began in earnest. Now fully active, early reports indicate that the instrument is meeting every expectation.

While the Suomi NPP has a five-year mission life, ABB is already preparing to provide its uniquely Canadian technology to other projects. The company expects to deliver a second flight model of its interferometer later in 2012. This model will be part of the CrIS instrument to be mounted on NASA's Joint Polar Satellite System, JPSS-1. ABB also hopes to land a contract to participate in the subsequent JPSS-2. The two JPSS satellites are expected to be launched in 2016 and 2022 respectively

At its peak, project employed 60 workers

The CrIS project brought more than profits for ABB. It also brought people—at its peak, the project employed close to 60 highly skilled workers and technicians. While the need for these skilled employees ebbed and flowed over the course of the project, by the time it was complete, ABB had generated 125 man-years of employment.

With the advanced engineering skills developed through projects, ABB is also expanding its portfolio of technologies in other areas of optical instrumentation. It recognizes that governments and organizations are keenly interested in measuring other things in the atmosphere, such as pollutants and greenhouse gases. To meet those growing needs, ABB expects to see the size of its space optical instrumentation business grow dramatically over the next few years.