Satellite Missions

Weather Satellite Orbits

NOAA uses data from its satellites, along with those of its partners, to generate your weather forecast each day and to expand the understanding of our dynamic planet. To do this, NOAA operates three types of satellite systems—those that orbit around Earth (polar-orbiting), those that stay focused on one region of Earth (geostationary) and a deep space satellite, located one million miles from Earth. This animation shows the location of these orbits and NOAA's role in the global observing system.

  • Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)

    Joint Polar 

Satellite System (JPSS) The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is the Nation's next generation of polar-orbiting environmental satellites. JPSS is a collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA, and represents significant technological and scientific advancements in severe weather prediction and en¬vironmental monitoring. JPSS satellites circle the Earth from pole-to-pole and cross the equator 14 times daily in the afternoon orbit—providing full global coverage twice a day. Polar satellites are considered the backbone of the global observing system. JPSS will operate in the afternoon orbit, joining the European MetOp satellites (flying the mid-morning orbit) to provide full global coverage of the Earth's ocean, land and atmosphere.

    JPSS satellites simultaneously provide sophisticated meteorological data and observations of atmosphere, ocean, and land for short-term, seasonal, and long-term monitoring and forecasting. The most important function of JPSS is to increase the timeliness and accuracy of forecasts three to seven days in advance of a severe weather event. NOAA's National Weather Service uses JPSS data as critical input for numerical forecast models, providing the basis for these mid-range forecasts.

    These forecasts allow for early warnings and enable emergency managers to make timely decisions to protect American lives and property, including ordering effective evacuations. JPSS satellites also provide support for zero to three day operational forecasting, which is particularly important in Polar Regions because they cannot be viewed effectively by geostationary spacecraft. In Alaska, JPSS provides critical data for nearly all of the weather forecasting for aviation, as well as for the economically vital maritime, oil and gas indus¬tries. JPSS also enables scientists and forecasters to monitor and predict weather patterns with greater accuracy and to study long-term climate trends by extending the more than 30-year satellite data record.

    Information from JPSS supports every area of NOAA's mission, including ensuring a more "Weather-Ready Nation," healthy coasts, resilient coastal communities, and adapting and mitigating climate change. Satellites in the JPSS constellation gather global measurements of atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic conditions—including atmospheric temperature, atmospheric moisture, hurricane intensity, clouds, rainfall, dense fog, volcanic ash, fire locations, smoke plumes, sea and land surface temperatures, vegetation, snow and ice cover, and ozone.

    JPSS includes three polar-orbiting satellites with five instruments, a versatile ground system and one experimental payload. The satellites are the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP), JPSS-1 and JPSS-2. JPSS also supports the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR) on the Japanese Space Exploration Agency Global Climate Observation Mission- Water and the Total Solar Irradiance Calibration Transfer Experiment (TCTE) experimental payload that measures the sun's energy output.

    The state-of-the-art instruments on board the currently flying Suomi NPP satellite are the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) and Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES ). Building off Suomi NPP's success the JPSS-1 satellite mission, launching in 2017, will host similar instruments: ATMS, CrIS, VIIRS, OMPS-Nadir and CERES.

  • Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES)


Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) When you watch your local newscaster present the weather forecast, and they show an image of weather over the whole United States, you are seeing imagery from NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, or GOES.

    GOES orbit 35,800 km (22,300 miles) above Earth's equator at speeds equal to Earth's rotation, which means they maintain their positions. GOES provide constant monitoring of various areas of the planet and provide the same geographic images over time. To fully cover Alaska, Hawaii, the entire continental United States and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (for tropical storms), NOAA operates two GOES satellites simultaneously: GOES-East and GOES-West.

    The satellites provide constant coverage of the western hemisphere by taking photographic images every 15 minutes. These "constant eyes" are critical for identifying severe weather, snow storms, tropical storms and hurricanes. GOES protect our lives and property every day—constantly watching for new storms and severe weather.

    In addition to basic imagery, on-board sensors detect cloud formation, land and ocean temperatures, as well as monitor activities of the sun like solar flares that can disturb Earth's magnetic field. NOAA also uses GOES to identify when satellite emergency locator beacons have been activated to help with search and rescue activities.

  • Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP)


Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Since the mid-1960s, when the Department of Defense initiated the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), low earth-orbiting satellites have provided the military with important environmental information. NOAA manages the ground systems development and operates these satellites on behalf of the U.S. Air Force.

    Each DMSP satellite has a 101 minute, sun-synchronous near-polar orbit at an altitude of 830 km (516 miles) above Earth's surface. The visible and infrared sensors collect images, providing global coverage twice per day. The combination of day/night and dawn/dusk satellites allows monitoring of global information such as clouds every six hours.

    DMSP satellites "see" such environmental features as clouds, bodies of water, snow, fire and pollution, and record information, which can help determine cloud type and height, land and surface water temperatures, water currents, ocean surface features, ice and snow. DMSP is ultimately used in planning and conducting U.S. military operations worldwide.

    Some DMSP satellites have night visual sensors with the unique capability to detect low levels of visible-near infrared radiance at night. It is possible to detect clouds illuminated by moonlight, lights from cities and towns, gas flares, volcanoes, fires, as well as Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis.

  • JASON-3

    Ocean Surface 

Topography Mission (OSTM)/JASON-2 Sea level rise is a fundamental indicator of climate change, which affects much of the world's population who live in coastal areas. To measure the height of the ocean around the world, NOAA has collaborated with NASA, France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) on the Jason-3 mission.

    Jason-3 is a low-earth orbiting satellite, which orbits 1,336 km (830 miles) above Earth at an inclination of 66 degrees to the equator, collecting sea surface height data. It will repeat its ground track every 10 days, covering 95 percent of the world's ice-free oceans using its radar altimeter to precisely measure the topography of the ocean surface.

    Satellite altimetry data provides sea surface height measurements used for determining ocean circulation, climate change and sea level rise. These sea surface height measurements are used in weather modeling for seasonal forecasts, tropical storm intensification forecasting, and coastal forecasting in response to environmental events like El Niño and La Niña.

    Jason-3 is a follow on mission to the Jason-2/Ocean Surface Topography Mission. NOAA provides day-to-day operation of the Jason-2 satellite distributing data to users around the world. Jason-3 will follow Jason-2 in maintaining these critical sea surface height data.
    Read more about Jason-3 here.

  • Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)

    Joint Polar 

Satellite System (JPSS) Without timely and accurate warnings, space weather events like geomagnetic storms have demonstrated the potential to disrupt nearly every major public infrastructure system, including power grids, telecommunications, GPS-enhanced agriculture and the Next Generation Air Transportation System. DSCOVR will play a key role in monitoring Earth's space weather environment, with its primary measurement being solar wind.

    JDSCOVR will maintain the Nation's solar wind observations from the L1 orbit, which is the neutral gravity point between the sun and Earth about one million miles from Earth. This orbit puts DSCOVR in good position to monitor the sun, because solar wind—the constant stream of charged particles from the sun—reaches L1 about an hour before reaching Earth. From L1, DSCOVR will also have a continuous view of the sun-lit side of the Earth, or a continuous view of the "Earth at noon."

    Solar wind observations are critical to maintaining the accuracy and lead time of NOAA's space weather alerts and forecasts. Solar wind observations are the only data source to support 15 to 60 minute lead time for geomagnetic storm warnings. Our national security and economic well-being, which depend on advanced technologies, are at risk without advanced warnings of geomagnetic storms.

    DSCOVR is a partnership between NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force. DSCOVR was originally built in the 1990s for a mission that was subsequently cancelled, and the satellite was placed in storage in 2001. It was removed from storage and tested in 2008. That same year, the Committee on Space Environmental Sensor Mitigation Options determined that DSCOVR was the optimal solution for meeting NOAA and U.S. Air Force space weather requirements.

  • Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R)


Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R) For nearly 40 years, NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) have provided continuous imagery and data of atmospheric conditions and space weather, monitoring the Western Hemisphere. GOES data products are utilized by the National Weather Service (NWS) for weather monitoring and forecasting operations. They are the primary satellites used for tracking hurricanes. Their images are seen daily on television weather forecasts, and GOES data is used by researchers for better understanding of interactions between land, ocean, atmosphere and climate. The satellites have also aided in the search and rescue of thousands of individuals in distress around the world.

    NOAA operates two geostationary satellites, GOES-East and GOES-West, to cover from the Atlantic Ocean over the U.S. to the Pacific Ocean, and maintains a central on-orbit spare. The next generation GOES-R series satellites are being developed now to replace NOAA's current GOES satellites before they reach their end-of-life and to provide operational coverage through 2036.

    What's New?

    The next generation of GOES, the GOES-R series, will mark the first major technological advances in geostationary observations since 1994. GOES-R will provide images of weather patterns and severe storms as frequently as every 30 seconds, which will contribute to more accurate and reliable weather forecasts and severe weather outlooks.

    GOES-R will provide significant advances in observing capabilities with a new 16-channel imager that will provide three times more spectral information, four times the spatial coverage, and five times the temporal resolution compared to the current GOES imagers. In addition, a Geostationary Lightning Mapper will provide continuous and near-uniform real-time surveillance of total lightning activity throughout the Americas and adjacent oceans. The satellites will also advance space weather forecasting, including improved solar flare warnings for communications and navigation disruptions, more accurate monitoring of hazardous energetic particles and better monitoring of coronal mass ejections.

    GOES-R is scheduled for launch in 2016, and will be followed by GOES-S in 2017, GOES-T in 2019 and GOES-U in 2024.The GOES-R series will extend the availability of the operational GOES satellite system through 2036.