Weather satellite

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GOES-8, a United States weather satellite of the meteorological-satellite service GOES 8 Spac0255.jpg
GOES-8, a United States weather satellite of the meteorological-satellite service

The weather satellite is a type of satellite that is primarily used to monitor the weather and climate of the Earth. Satellites can be polar orbiting, covering the entire Earth asynchronously, or geostationary, hovering over the same spot on the equator. [1]


Meteorological satellites see more than clouds: city lights, fires, effects of pollution, auroras, sand and dust storms, snow cover, ice mapping, boundaries of ocean currents, energy flows, etc. Other types of environmental information are collected using weather satellites. Weather satellite images helped in monitoring the volcanic ash cloud from Mount St. Helens and activity from other volcanoes such as Mount Etna. [2] Smoke from fires in the western United States such as Colorado and Utah have also been monitored.

El Niño and its effects on weather are monitored daily from satellite images. The Antarctic ozone hole is mapped from weather satellite data. Collectively, weather satellites flown by the U.S., Europe, India, China, Russia, and Japan provide nearly continuous observations for a global weather watch.


The first television image of Earth from space from the TIROS-1 weather satellite in 1960 TIROS-1-Earth.png
The first television image of Earth from space from the TIROS-1 weather satellite in 1960
A mosaic of photographs of the United States from the ESSA-9 weather satellite, taken on June 26, 1969 ESSA-9 satellite photo mosaic.PNG
A mosaic of photographs of the United States from the ESSA-9 weather satellite, taken on June 26, 1969

As early as 1946, the idea of cameras in orbit to observe the weather was being developed. This was due to sparse data observation coverage and the expense of using cloud cameras on rockets. By 1958, the early prototypes for TIROS and Vanguard (developed by the Army Signal Corps) were created. [3] The first weather satellite, Vanguard 2, was launched on February 17, 1959. [4] It was designed to measure cloud cover and resistance, but a poor axis of rotation and its elliptical orbit kept it from collecting a notable amount of useful data. The Explorer VI and VII satellites also contained weather-related experiments. [3]

The first weather satellite to be considered a success was TIROS-1, launched by NASA on April 1, 1960. [5] TIROS operated for 78 days and proved to be much more successful than Vanguard 2. TIROS paved the way for the Nimbus program, whose technology and findings are the heritage of most of the Earth-observing satellites NASA and NOAA have launched since then. Beginning with the Nimbus 3 satellite in 1969, temperature information through the tropospheric column began to be retrieved by satellites from the eastern Atlantic and most of the Pacific Ocean, which led to significant improvements to weather forecasts. [6]

The ESSA and NOAA polar orbiting satellites followed suit from the late 1960s onward. Geostationary satellites followed, beginning with the ATS and SMS series in the late 1960s and early 1970s, then continuing with the GOES series from the 1970s onward. Polar orbiting satellites such as QuikScat and TRMM began to relay wind information near the ocean's surface starting in the late 1970s, with microwave imagery which resembled radar displays, which significantly improved the diagnoses of tropical cyclone strength, intensification, and location during the 2000s and 2010s.


Observation is typically made via different 'channels' of the electromagnetic spectrum, in particular, the visible and infrared portions.

Some of these channels include: [7] [8]

Visible spectrum

Visible-light images from weather satellites during local daylight hours are easy to interpret even by the average person; clouds, cloud systems such as fronts and tropical storms, lakes, forests, mountains, snow ice, fires, and pollution such as smoke, smog, dust and haze are readily apparent. Even wind can be determined by cloud patterns, alignments and movement from successive photos. [9]

Infrared spectrum

The thermal or infrared images recorded by sensors called scanning radiometers enable a trained analyst to determine cloud heights and types, to calculate land and surface water temperatures, and to locate ocean surface features. Infrared satellite imagery can be used effectively for tropical cyclones with a visible eye pattern, using the Dvorak technique, where the difference between the temperature of the warm eye and the surrounding cold cloud tops can be used to determine its intensity (colder cloud tops generally indicate a more intense storm). [10] Infrared pictures depict ocean eddies or vortices and map currents such as the Gulf Stream which are valuable to the shipping industry. Fishermen and farmers are interested in knowing land and water temperatures to protect their crops against frost or increase their catch from the sea. Even El Niño phenomena can be spotted. Using color-digitized techniques, the gray shaded thermal images can be converted to color for easier identification of desired information.


The geostationary Himawari 8 satellite's first true-colour composite PNG image Himawari-8 true-color 2015-01-25 0230Z.png
The geostationary Himawari 8 satellite's first true-colour composite PNG image

Each meteorological satellite is designed to use one of two different classes of orbit: geostationary and polar orbiting.


Geostationary weather satellites orbit the Earth above the equator at altitudes of 35,880 km (22,300 miles). Because of this orbit, they remain stationary with respect to the rotating Earth and thus can record or transmit images of the entire hemisphere below continuously with their visible-light and infrared sensors. The news media use the geostationary photos in their daily weather presentation as single images or made into movie loops. These are also available on the city forecast pages of (example Dallas, TX). [11]

Several geostationary meteorological spacecraft are in operation. The United States' GOES series has three in operation: GOES-15, GOES-16 and GOES-17. GOES-16 and-17 remain stationary over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, respectively. [12] GOES-15 will be retired in early July 2019. [13]

Russia's new-generation weather satellite Elektro-L No.1 operates at 76°E over the Indian Ocean. The Japanese have the MTSAT-2 located over the mid Pacific at 145°E and the Himawari 8 at 140°E. The Europeans have four in operation, Meteosat-8 (3.5°W) and Meteosat-9 (0°) over the Atlantic Ocean and have Meteosat-6 (63°E) and Meteosat-7 (57.5°E) over the Indian Ocean. China currently has three Fengyun (风云) geostationary satellites (FY-2E at 86.5°E, FY-2F at 123.5°E, and FY-2G at 105°E) operated. [14] India also operates geostationary satellites called INSAT which carry instruments for meteorological purposes.

Polar orbiting

Computer-controlled motorized parabolic dish antenna for tracking LEO weather satellites. Parabolic-antenna-LEO.jpg
Computer-controlled motorized parabolic dish antenna for tracking LEO weather satellites.

Polar orbiting weather satellites circle the Earth at a typical altitude of 850 km (530 miles) in a north to south (or vice versa) path, passing over the poles in their continuous flight. Polar orbiting weather satellites are in sun-synchronous orbits, which means they are able to observe any place on Earth and will view every location twice each day with the same general lighting conditions due to the near-constant local solar time. Polar orbiting weather satellites offer a much better resolution than their geostationary counterparts due their closeness to the Earth.

The United States has the NOAA series of polar orbiting meteorological satellites, presently NOAA-15, NOAA-18 and NOAA-19 (POES) and NOAA-20 (JPSS). Europe has the Metop-A and Metop-B satellites operated by EUMETSAT. Russia has the Meteor and RESURS series of satellites. China has FY-3A, 3B and 3C. India has polar orbiting satellites as well.


Turnstile antenna for reception of 137 MHz LEO weather satellite transmissions SatelliteAntenna-137MHz.jpg
Turnstile antenna for reception of 137 MHz LEO weather satellite transmissions

The United States Department of Defense's Meteorological Satellite (DMSP) can "see" the best of all weather vehicles with its ability to detect objects almost as 'small' as a huge oil tanker. In addition, of all the weather satellites in orbit, only DMSP can "see" at night in the visual. Some of the most spectacular photos have been recorded by the night visual sensor; city lights, volcanoes, fires, lightning, meteors, oil field burn-offs, as well as the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis have been captured by this 450-mile-high space vehicle's low moonlight sensor.

At the same time, energy use and city growth can be monitored since both major and even minor cities, as well as highway lights, are conspicuous. This informs astronomers of light pollution. The New York City Blackout of 1977 was captured by one of the night orbiter DMSP space vehicles.

In addition to monitoring city lights, these photos are a life saving asset in the detection and monitoring of fires. Not only do the satellites see the fires visually day and night, but the thermal and infrared scanners on board these weather satellites detect potential fire sources below the surface of the Earth where smoldering occurs. Once the fire is detected, the same weather satellites provide vital information about wind that could fan or spread the fires. These same cloud photos from space tell the firefighter when it will rain.

Some of the most dramatic photos showed the 600 Kuwaiti oil fires that the fleeing Army of Iraq started on February 23, 1991. The night photos showed huge flashes, far outstripping the glow of large populated areas. The fires consumed millions of gallons of oil; the last was doused on November 6, 1991.


Infrared image of storms over the central United States from the GOES-17 satellite NOAA Shares First Infrared Imagery from GOES-17 (43904870711).gif
Infrared image of storms over the central United States from the GOES-17 satellite

Snowfield monitoring, especially in the Sierra Nevada, can be helpful to the hydrologist keeping track of available snowpack for runoff vital to the watersheds of the western United States. This information is gleaned from existing satellites of all agencies of the U.S. government (in addition to local, on-the-ground measurements). Ice floes, packs, and bergs can also be located and tracked from weather spacecraft.

Even pollution whether it is nature-made or man-made can be pinpointed. The visual and infrared photos show effects of pollution from their respective areas over the entire earth. Aircraft and rocket pollution, as well as condensation trails, can also be spotted. The ocean current and low level wind information gleaned from the space photos can help predict oceanic oil spill coverage and movement. Almost every summer, sand and dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa drifts across the equatorial regions of the Atlantic Ocean. GOES-EAST photos enable meteorologists to observe, track and forecast this sand cloud. In addition to reducing visibilities and causing respiratory problems, sand clouds suppress hurricane formation by modifying the solar radiation balance of the tropics. Other dust storms in Asia and mainland China are common and easy to spot and monitor, with recent examples of dust moving across the Pacific Ocean and reaching North America.

In remote areas of the world with few local observers, fires could rage out of control for days or even weeks and consume millions of acres before authorities are alerted. Weather satellites can be a tremendous asset in such situations. Nighttime photos also show the burn-off in gas and oil fields. Atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles have been taken by weather satellites since 1969. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Geostationary orbit Circular orbit above the Earths equator and following the direction of the Earths rotation

A geostationary orbit, also referred to as a geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO), is a circular geosynchronous orbit 35,786 kilometres above Earth's equator and following the direction of Earth's rotation.

Earth observation satellite non-military satellite specifically designed to observe Earth from orbit

An Earth observation satellite or Earth remote sensing satellite is a satellite used or designed for Earth observation from orbit, similar to spy satellites but intended for non-military uses such as environmental monitoring, meteorology, map making etc. The first occurrence of satellite remote sensing can be dated to the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. Sputnik 1 sent back radio signals, which scientists used to study the ionosphere. NASA launched the first American satellite, Explorer 1, in January 31, 1958. The information sent back from its radiation detector led to the discovery of the Earth's Van Allen radiation belts. The TIROS-1 spacecraft, launched on April 1, 1960 as part of NASA's TIROS Program, sent back the first television footage of weather patterns to be taken from space. As of 2008, more than 150 Earth observation satellites were in orbit, recording data with both passive and active sensors and acquiring more than 10 terabits of data daily.

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system (GOES), operated by the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service division, supports weather forecasting, severe storm tracking, and meteorology research. Spacecraft and ground-based elements of the system work together to provide a continuous stream of environmental data. The National Weather Service (NWS) and the Meteorological Service of Canada use the GOES system for their North American weather monitoring and forecasting operations, and scientific researchers use the data to better understand land, atmosphere, ocean, and climate interactions.

European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites intergovernmental organisation

The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) is an intergovernmental organisation created through an international convention agreed by a current total of 30 European Member States.

Defense Meteorological Satellite Program

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) monitors meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-terrestrial physics for the United States Department of Defense. The program is managed by the Air Force Space Command with on-orbit operations provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The mission of the satellites was revealed in March 1973. They provide cloud cover imagery from polar orbits that are Sun-synchronous at nominal altitude of 450 nautical miles (830 km).

Meteosat series of european weather satellites

The Meteosat series of satellites are geostationary meteorological satellites operated by EUMETSAT under the Meteosat Transition Programme (MTP) and the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) program.

EUMETCast is a method of disseminating various meteorological data operated by the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). The main purpose is the dissemination of EUMETSAT's own data, but various data from other providers are broadcast as well. EUMETCast is a contribution to GEONETCast and IGDDS and provides data for GEOSS and GMES.

This is a list of meteorology topics. The terms relate to meteorology, the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere that focuses on weather processes and forecasting.


MetOp is a series of three polar-orbiting meteorological satellites developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and operated by the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). The satellites form the space segment component of the overall EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS), which in turn is the European half of the EUMETSAT/NOAA Initial Joint Polar System (IJPS). The satellites carry a payload comprising 11 scientific instruments and two which support Cospas-Sarsat Search and Rescue services. In order to provide data continuity between MetOp and NOAA Polar Operational Satellites (POES), several instruments are carried on both fleets of satellites.


GOES-1, designated GOES-A and SMS-C prior to entering service, was a weather satellite operated by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the first Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite to be launched.

The Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) was a constellation of polar orbiting weather satellites funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) with the intent of improving the accuracy and detail of weather analysis and forecasting. The Spacecraft were provided by NASA and the European Space Agency, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center oversaw the manufacture, integration and test of the NASA-provided TIROS satellites. The first polar-orbiting weather satellite launched as part of the POES constellation was the Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS), which was launched on April 1, 1960. The final spacecraft, NOAA-19, was launched in February 2009. The ESA-provided MetOp satellite operated by EUMETSAT utilize POES-heritage instruments for the purpose of data continuity. The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which was launched on November 18, 2017, is the successor to the POES Program.

Meteosat 8

Meteosat 8 is a weather satellite, also known as MSG 1. The Meteosat series are operated by EUMETSAT under the Meteosat Transition Programme (MTP) and the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) program. Notable for imaging the first meteor to be predicted to strike the earth, 2008 TC3. Launched 28 Aug 2002 by an Ariane V155, this European Meteorology satellite is in a Geostationary orbit.

Antarctic Meteorological Research Center

The Antarctic Meteorological Research Center (AMRC) is an Antarctic research program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that is based out of the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) at the University of Wisconsin. The AMRC was founded as a link between the UW-Madison automatic weather station (AWS) project and the Man computer Interactive Data Access System (McIDAS) project, also at UW-Madison.

Joint Polar Satellite System

The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is the latest generation of U.S. polar-orbiting, non-geosynchronous, environmental satellites. JPSS will provide the global environmental data used in numerical weather prediction models for forecasts, and scientific data used for climate monitoring. JPSS will aid in fulfilling the mission of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the Department of Commerce. Data and imagery obtained from the JPSS will increase timeliness and accuracy of public warnings and forecasts of climate and weather events, thus reducing the potential loss of human life and property and advancing the national economy. The JPSS is developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who is responsible for operation of JPSS. Three to five satellites are planned for the JPSS constellation of satellites. JPSS satellites will be flown, and the scientific data from JPSS will be processed, by the JPSS – Common Ground System (JPSS-CGS).

GOES-16 geosynchronous environmental satellite

GOES-16, formerly known as GOES-R before reaching geostationary orbit, is the first of the GOES-R series of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). GOES-16 serves as the operational geostationary weather satellite in the GOES East position at 75.2°W, providing a view centered on the Americas. GOES-16 provides high spatial and temporal resolution imagery of the Earth through 16 spectral bands at visible and infrared wavelengths using its Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). GOES-16's Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) is the first operational lightning mapper flown in geostationary orbit. The spacecraft also includes four other scientific instruments for monitoring space weather and the Sun.

Sentinel-4 Earth observation satellite

Sentinel-4 is a satellite mission making up a part of the European Copernicus Programme, which is also known as the European Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme. Sentinel-4 will utilize 2 payload instruments integrated on board a Meteosat Third Generation Sounder (MTG-S) satellite to observe primarily the tropospheric composition of the Earth's atmosphere. The data will be gathered and made available to the Copernicus program with the aim of contributing to air quality applications such as with the Copernicus Atmosphere Services as well as the air quality monitoring over the regions of Europe and Northern Africa. As with other aspects of the Copernicus programme, the Sentinel-4 initiative is funded mostly through the EU and the technical design and development has been put under responsibility of the European Space Agency (ESA).

GOES-17 Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite

GOES-17 is the second of the current generation of weather satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The four satellites of the series will extend the availability of the GOES until 2036 for weather forecast and meteorology research. The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin, was based on the A2100A platform, and will have an expected useful life of 15 years. GOES-17 is intended to deliver high-resolution visible and infrared imagery and lightning observations of more than half the globe.


NOAA-20, designated JPSS-1 prior to launch, is the first of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's latest generation of U.S. polar-orbiting, non-geosynchronous, environmental satellites called the Joint Polar Satellite System. NOAA-20 was launched on November 18, 2017 and joined the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite in the same orbit. NOAA-20 operates about 50 minutes ahead of Suomi NPP, allowing important overlap in observational coverage. Circling the Earth from pole-to-pole, it crosses the equator about 14 times daily, providing full global coverage twice a day. This will give meteorologists information on "atmospheric temperature and moisture, clouds, sea-surface temperature, ocean color, sea ice cover, volcanic ash, and fire detection" so as to enhance weather forecasting including hurricane tracking, post-hurricane recovery by detailing storm damage and mapping of power outages.

The AN/UMQ-13(V) system or MARK IVB, is a meteorological data station that is owned and operated by the United States Air Force. This system allows meteorologists from around the globe to analyze and forecast meteorological data from polar orbiting satellites belonging to, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). The MARK IVB also uses geostationary orbiting satellites to include Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), Japan's Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS), and Meteosat which is operated in cooperation between EUMETSAT and the European Space Agency.


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