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Aging weather satellites receiving much needed upgrades

For nearly half a century, the current operational weather satellites in space have been providing meteorologists with life-saving information and weather data. The aging and sometimes fragile satellites have received upgrades through the years, but have never fully been replaced with more state of the art technology. That changed last year when GOES 16, previously known as GOES-R was launched into space. It was described as trading in your black and white TV for a ultra HD one, and at the cost of $11 billion was the single largest upgrade to weather forecasting of the modern satellite era.

Now, thanks to a program managed by NOAA called the Joint Polar Satellite System, the satellite system is getting an even bigger upgrade. The program which cost more than 10 billion dollars, launched its first satellite JPSS-1 into space Saturday morning. This satellite is remarkable different from the GOES satellite in its position and information it will feed back to earth. While GOES satellites remain stationary over a fixed point of the earth’s surface at roughly 22,500 miles, the Joint Polar Satellite System will orbit the earth from the North Pole to the South Pole 14 times per day, at 512 miles above the earth. This satellite is the first of four that will eventually be launched into space, to replacing the aging satellite systems. The next are set to launch in 2021, 2026 and 2031.

This program is extremely important as it will provide more data to be ingested into weather models. Models like the European weather models, which is heavily favored by many meteorologists as being more accurate than its American counterpart, the GFS, is fed with more data and better information. The JPSS program will aid in providing the GFS with more data and make the weather model more reliable. Ryan Maue of said earlier this week that in order to have the best weather forecast, we must invest in good weather models and satellites.

That’s just what this program is aimed at, as polar satellites play a pivotal role in weather forecasting. More than three-quarters of all data that is fed into weather models comes from polar orbiting satellites and with the launch of JPSS-1, meteorologists will be able to create more accurate forecasts up to seven days in advance.

Among the data being fed into weather models, JPSS-1 will also provide other reliable information to scientist. From vegetation, to forest fires, volcanoes, air quality, and even ice age and thickness, JPSS-1 will have all the tools available to monitor how weather is affecting everything around us. Current polar satellites in space collect similar data, but JPSS-1 will be able to do it at a much higher resolution. The satellite will also provide critical information to allow for earlier warnings of severe weather, like hurricanes and blizzards.

Once operational in 2018, JPSS-1 will be known as NOAA-20 and will share its orbit with Suomi NPP, a research satellite that was launched in 2011.

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