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Activities related to this project have been underway for the past 8 to 10 years. During this period, a contract was awarded (FY90) to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) to develop a prototype replacement system. This prototype system was thoroughly tested in both controlled and field environments. The test was successful in demonstrating an overall concept using a generic ground-based telemetry system with specific modules (provided by radiosonde manufacturers) to decode proprietary signals. Lessons learned during the development and evaluation process will reduce the risks of the approach planned for the final replacement system. Testing NCAR Prototype System
Testing of the NCAR Prototype System



A Request for Information (RFI) was released to industry and a briefing was conducted in 1995. Comments from industry helped to formulate more specific requirements and were incorporated in the specification documents. These specifications were released for comment again in 1996. Results from the RFIs formed a basis to conclude that all requirements of the replacement system could be fulfilled with non-developmental or modified commercial off-the-shelf equipment. However, no current commercial or military radiosonde system meets the NWS requirements without modification or replacement of certain components.

The acquisition strategy for this project is to separately acquire the major components of the system, including:

Generic ground-based Telemetry Receiving System (an antenna and radio receiver)
Radiosondes and associated proprietary signal processing systems
Data processing computers (Pentium II computer, or later, with Windows NT)
Surface observing instruments (Wind, temperature, humidity)
Balloon inflation and launch shelters

The software for the data processing computers is being developed by the NWS, with third-party contracting support. This software and the data processing computers will be implemented in advance of the new radiosondes and telemetry systems. The new workstations will be interfaced to the existing telemetry system through an interim version of the signal processing systems.

The strategy will allow maximum competition between specific types of vendors, and seek the best overall system at the lowest cost. This strategy also offers flexibility for timing contract awards to match the approved budget levels.

This strategy presents a risk since NWS is responsible for the compatibility of these units. This risk is considered low. NWS will develop detailed interface control documents to define how the components are to be connected and what data will be transferred. Prototype units will be used to test, operate, and validate the interfaces before the systems are mass produced. The aim is to further reduce development risk by seeking the award of contracts to two vendors for prototype telemetry systems, followed by Government testing prior to awarding a single production contract.

Procuring a generic ground-based telemetry system provides the best method for cost avoidance. NWS plans to establish a Qualified Products List (QPL) for radiosondes to facilitate frequent competition for radiosonde supply contracts. Implementation of a new radiosonde will not require replacement or modification of the ground-based telemetry system. This approach will allow for future cost reductions as the cost of the current technology is reduced. Radiosonde performance will be improved through availability of newer technology.

NWS has maintained the ability to use multiple radiosonde designs. This has led to strong competition between vendors, and resulted in lower costs. Subject to the availability of funding, the current NWS practice of procuring radiosondes from two or more vendors (major and minor suppliers based on cost) will be continued to ensure availability of expendable items to field sites. This approach supports the existence of more than one radiosonde vendor to promote competition in future acquisitions, to the extent practicable.

No single radio frequency band can be used at all NWS locations. Therefore, the replacement system will (on a site-specific basis) use either the 401-406 MHz or 1675-1690 MHz frequency bands. This may be accomplished by purchasing separate systems to optimize the application of commercially available equipment.

The acquisition process to be used in this project follows the model of the Acquisition Concept of Operations (CONOPS).   Information on this model can be found in the Department of Commerce's CONOPS Home Page.   The project team will speed the distribution of information to prospective vendors and other interested parties by posting the Project Agreement, pre-solicitation notices, and other appropriate acquisition related documents on a World Wide Web home page. Most communications will be conducted via electronic means. The intent is to award fixed price contracts, following a streamlined acquisition process. The acquisition process will be expedited to the extent feasible through use of face-to-face meetings with vendors, oral presentations, and other appropriate procedures.


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Date Last Modified: December 6, 2001