The Suomi NPP Mission

The Next Generation
of Earth Observations

Suomi NPP: Improving U.S. weather forecast accuracy from space

On October 28, 2011, the successful launch of a new polar-orbiting environmental satellite, NPP, has enabled NOAA to continue issuing accurate forecasts and provide advance warning for severe weather, such as deadly tornado outbreaks, blistering heat waves, floods, snowfall and wildfires.

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The satellite, NASA's NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), orbits Earth every 102 minutes, flying 512 miles above the surface, and capturing data from the Earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere. The data is used by NOAA forecasters to detect the potential for dangerous weather conditions days – even several weeks – in advance. For example, data from polar-orbiting satellites helped NOAA meteorologists predict, 5 days in advance, the major snowstorms that struck the Atlantic Coast in February 2010 ("Snowmageddon") and paralyzed New York City in December 2010. 

"Along with the skill of our meteorologists, polar-orbiting satellites, like NPP, are critical to the success of our forecasts three days and beyond," said Jack Hayes, assistant administrator of NOAA's National Weather Service. "They are the backbone of the global earth observing system and global weather prediction capability."

While NPP is a NASA mission, NOAA feeds the data collected from the satellite's new, sophisticated instruments into the forecast models. The satellite data is used to generate dozens of products, including measurements of cloud and vegetation cover, ocean color, and sea and land surface temperatures. NOAA meteorologists use these products, especially measurements of the distribution of moisture and heat in the atmosphere, to improve forecasts.

NPP as the Bridge

NPP data replaces data from the NOAA-19 satellite in the 'afternoon orbit,' meaning that the satellite passes over the U.S. during full daylight hours. The afternoon orbit is especially important since some of the spacecraft's sensors work best in full daylight. NPP is also the bridge that links NOAA's current polarorbiting satellites to the next generation of advanced spacecraft called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). As of March 6, 2012 JPSS has taken over operations NPP upon confirmation that all five of the satellite's instruments were activated and routinely collecting scientific data.


"The bottom line is NPP is a big deal for America," said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA's Satellite and Information Service. "We need the data from NPP to inform the public about what's coming down the pike and how to plan for it appropriately." Kicza added that the success of NPP is a credit to the long, successful partnership between NOAA and NASA.

"Both of our agencies have worked for many decades to provide the Nation with the best in satellite weather and climate monitoring, and NPP is no different," she said. "NASA developed the NPP mission and NOAA provided the key instruments to populate the spacecraft." Kicza added that NPP will test how these instruments perform before they are formally added to the JPSS satellites. Data from NPP, like all other satellite data, is processed and distributed from NOAA's Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md. to key users including NOAA's National Weather Service and others around the world.

In addition to providing data for accurate weather forecasting, NPP tracks ash plumes from volcanic eruptions, helps emergency responders fight wildfires, helps advance climate science, accurately measures the amount of Arctic sea ice and changes in the ozone hole, and monitors phytoplankton and other organisms in the ocean.

NOAA will process and distribute NPP data from its Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md., to key users including NOAA's National Weather Service and others around the world.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the NPP mission on behalf of the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate. NOAA, with support from the Department of Defense, funded the instruments on NPP, and will provide operational support for the mission.

NPP Instruments

  • Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS: will survey broad swaths of the land, oceans and air, enabling scientists to monitor everything from phytoplankton and other organisms in the sea, to vegetation and forest cover to the amount of sea ice at the poles.
  • Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite, or OMPS: maps and profiles ozone throughout the atmosphere.
  • Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System, or CERES: monitors the amount of energy entering and exiting the top of the atmosphere.
  • Cross-track Infrared Sounder, or CrIS: measures temperature profiles with greater resolution, improving climate prediction and both short-and long-term weather forecasting, and scientists' understanding of major climate shifts.
  • Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder, or ATMS: works in conjunction with CrIS to make detailed vertical profiles of atmospheric pressure, heat and moisture.