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3 ways NASA's new polar satellite will help to improve weather forecasts, climate data

By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
November 16, 2017, 12:52:32 PM EST

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NASA was scheduled to launch a new, next-generation weather satellite early Wednesday morning, but unfavorable weather conditions forced the postponement of the launch.

A new launch date for the satellite, which will help improve the accuracy of weather forecasting, has been set for Saturday, Nov. 18 at 4:47 a.m. EST.

The satellite is the first of four weather satellites in the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and has been named JPSS-1.

“The new JPSS satellite will join GOES-16 as we are confronting one of the most tragic hurricane seasons in the past decade,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

“The JPSS satellite system will provide advanced forecasting on not only hurricanes but also dangerous weather events threatening communities across the United States,” Ross added.

Here are three things to know about the new weather satellite:

1. JPSS-1 will be much different from GOES-16

Last November, GOES-16 (formerly GOES-R) made headlines by being the first of the next generation of geostationary weather satellites.

GOES-16 orbits the Earth around 22,000 miles above the equator and remains fixed over the same area of the globe at all times.

This satellite has sent back incredible images of snowstorms, hurricanes and severe thunderstorms, but since it is fixed over the same area of the world, it is unable so send back information for areas such as Africa or Asia.

JPSS 1 art

This illustration depicts the Joint Polar Satellite System-1, or JPSS-1, spacecraft designed to provide forecasters with crucial environmental science data to provide a better understanding of changes in the Earth's weather, oceans and climate. (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

JPSS-1 is in a different family of satellites and will be launched into a polar orbit, circling the globe 14 times a day from pole to pole.

Being in a polar orbit, JPSS-1 will gather data from around the world from a distance of around 520 miles. This provides meteorologists with much different information than GOES-16.

“Using polar satellite data, we have been able to provide emergency managers with more accurate forecasts, allowing them to pre-position equipment and resources days before a storm. JPSS will continue this trend,” said Louis W. Uccellini, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.

2. How the instruments on JPSS-1 will help to improve weather forecasts

Polar-orbiting satellites supply 85 percent of the data used in weather prediction computer models, so the weather observations taken by the five advanced instruments on JPSS-1 will supply these models with more comprehensive information.

“The satellite will provide meteorologists with a variety of observations, such as atmospheric temperature and moisture, sea-surface temperature, ocean color, sea ice cover, volcanic ash and fire detection,” NOAA said.

Other polar-orbiting weather satellites currently in use collect similar data, but the instruments on board JPSS-1 will be more advanced and able to gather data at a higher resolution.

Specifically, the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) instrument on JPSS-1 will offer more channels, better resolution and a wider swath than older weather satellites to improve the accuracy of short- and medium-term forecasting.

The high-resolution observations will help to provide meteorologists with more information during severe weather events, including hurricanes, blizzards and severe thunderstorm outbreaks.

“JPSS-1 is going to bring the latest, most advanced technology that NOAA has ever flown in polar orbit to produce accurate three- to seven-day weather forecasts,” said Greg Mandt, director of the JPSS program at NOAA.

3. Long-term observations to help climate scientists

Data collected by JPSS-1 and subsequent satellites help to improve not only short- and medium-range forecasts but also long-term climate studies.

The Cross-Track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) instrument will collect high-vertical-resolution temperature and water vapor information and detect changes in greenhouse gasses.

Over a long period of time, these observations can help climate scientists improve climate prediction, as well as better understand long-duration weather phenomenon such as El Niño and La Niña.

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JPSS-1 launched before dawn on Tuesday atop a Delta II rocket form Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Although JPSS-1 has launched, it will not become operational until 2018. Once it does become operational, it will be renamed NOAA-20.

The satellite's primary mission is designed to last for seven years, but it may remain in service longer if the instruments continue to function properly.

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