The successful launch of the GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-series), now GOES-16 satellite was a major achievement for NOAA on the path to implementing the nation’s next generation of weather satellites. These will include completing and placing the upcoming GOES- S, T and U series satellites in geostationary orbit, as well as launching several polar satellites within the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) in the next decade. The first satellite in the JPSS system is the existing NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP, soon to be accompanied by JPSS-1, launching in 2017.
Polar and geostationary satellites are important and complementary components for weather forecasting, monitoring environmental conditions and mitigating the risks of severe weather, such as hurricanes, floods, fires and tornadoes. By orbiting above a fixed point on the Earth, GOES satellites provide imagery of the Western Hemisphere with high temporal resolution, producing an image every few minutes. By orbiting from pole to pole 14 times a day, JPSS’s satellites provide images of higher spatial resolution covering the entire globe twice daily. Together the sets of data are used to improve forecasting and the accuracy of weather prediction models across the US.
In addition to the high spatial resolution, there are other important benefits of the JPSS mission. While geostationary satellites produce imagery of the Western Hemisphere with high frequency, polar satellites provide timely pictures of Alaska and the Arctic, as their relative coverage of the poles is much larger due to the wide swath crossing the poles every orbit. These images are vital for monitoring river ice, air quality, travel routes, wildfires and navigation in polar regions.
Satellites in the JPSS constellation carry the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), whose unique “day-night band” can capture the Earth even in the lowest moonlit conditions. This capability has proven useful for many applications including tracking storms at all hours of the day and monitoring ship traffic, a useful tool to address illegal fishing worldwide.
The most important aspect of JPSS data is as additional input for weather modeling and forecasting. The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder and the Cross-track Infrared Sounder, two instruments aboard Suomi NPP and upcoming JPSS satellites, provide three dimensional measurements of air temperature and moisture. These data are critical to the accuracy and timeliness of medium-to-long term (3- to 7-day) weather forecasts.
The JPSS constellation provides additional products to those mentioned above including precipitation type and rates, surface and sea surface temperature measurements, vegetation health assessments, ocean color and aerosol tracking from volcanic eruptions.
Together, NOAA’s polar and geostationary satellites provide the nation with accurate and up-to-date environmental and weather monitoring.