WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

New eyes in the sky to launch Friday

Posted October 25, 2011

For a long time now, weather and other environmental satellites have played a big role in measuring and monitoring processes in earth's atmosphere, oceans and land areas. These satellites include geostationary orbiters that allow for the familiar satellite loops that we show on the air, and also a family of lower-flying polar orbiters that, due to their lower altitude, can make measurements and take images in considerably greater detail.

A new polar orbiter that will act as a test-bed and transition platform for the next generation of polar orbiting satellites will (if all goes to plan) launch this Friday from Vandenburg AFB, CA aboard a Delta II rocket, carrying an impressive array of instruments. To quote the mission web site, "Scientists will use ATMS, a 22-channel passive microwave radiometer, to create global models of temperature and moisture profiles that meteorologists will enter into weather forecasting models. CrIS, a Michelson interferometer, will monitor characteristics of the atmosphere, such as moisture and pressure that will be used to produce improvements in both short-and-long term weather forecasting. OMPS, a suite of hyperspectral-imaging spectrometers, will measure Earth's ozone levels, particularly near the poles where ozone levels fluctuate the most. VIIRS, a 22-band radiometer similar to the MODIS instrument, will collect visible and infrared views of Earth's dynamic surface processes, such as wildfires, land changes, and ice movement. VIIRS will also measure atmospheric and oceanic properties, including clouds and sea surface temperature. Finally, CERES, a 3-channel radiometer measuring reflected solar radiation, emitted terrestrial radiation, and total radiation, will monitor the natural and anthropogenic effects on the Earth's total thermal radiation budget."

There are lots of acronyms amongst that description, but it gives you a sense of the variety of types of information to be collected by the new satellite and the class of orbiters that will follow it. The one being launched Friday is called the NPP, which is, again, a mouthful of an acronym that expands out to NPOESS Preparatory Project, which further expands to National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project. Thankfully, as the new system of satellites is rolled out, the future name will be shortened to the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)!

For those of you interested in more detail about this project and its capabilities, I've included a link to the project home page, and also to the launch page where a countdown clock will track how much time is left before it goes up. There's lots to explore between the two sites...


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