Satellite Missions

Weather Satellite Orbits

NOAA uses data from its POES and GOES and satellites along with those of its partners to generate your weather forecast each day. These satellites fall into two different orbit types—those that orbit around Earth (polar-orbiting) and those that focus on one part of Earth (geostationary). This animation shows the orbits of the weather satellites NOAA currently uses.

Two Orbits, One Mission Information Sheet

  • Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES)

    Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) When you wonder on Wednesday what the weather will be like over the weekend, you turn to weather forecasters, who rely on NOAA Polar Operational Environmental Satellites, or POES, to help make their medium- and long-range forecasts.

    POES make regular orbits around the Earth's poles from about 833 km (517 miles) above the Earth's surface. The Earth constantly rotates counterclockwise underneath the path of the satellite making for a different view with each orbit. It takes the satellite approximately 1.5 hours complete a full orbit. In a 24-hour period, the 14 orbits of each polar satellite provide two complete views of weather around the world. By having imagery and atmospheric data of the whole globe, meteorologists are able to develop models to predict the weather five to ten days in advance.

    NOAA partners with European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) to constantly operate two polar-orbiting satellites: one POES (covering the afternoon orbit) and a European polar-orbiting satellite called MetOp (covering the mid-morning orbit).

    When polar-orbiting satellites fly over severe weather, they can also give us very detailed pictures given how much closer they are to storms than GOES, which orbit about 35,800 km (22,300 miles) above Earth’s surface.

    In addition to weather analysis and forecasting, data from the POES series support a broad range of environmental monitoring applications including: climate modeling and prediction, global sea surface temperature, temperature and humidity of the atmosphere, ocean dynamics research, volcanic eruption monitoring, forest fire detection, global vegetation analysis and sustained observations for long term changes in climate conditions. POES also assist in search and rescue by locating people, planes and ships that have activated emergency locator beacons.

  • Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES)

    Geostationary 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)

    Defense 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.

  • Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/JASON-2

    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 participates in a joint Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM) program between NOAA, NASA, France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

    The OSTM mission features the low-earth orbiting satellite, Jason-2, which orbits 1,336 km (830 miles) above Earth at an inclination of 66 degrees to the equator. 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 heights 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.

    Under the OSTM program, NOAA provides day-to-day operation of the Jason-2 satellite distributing data to users around the world. The Jason-3 satellite is scheduled to follow Jason-2 in maintaining the OSTM program.

  • 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 envi¬ronmental 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, hur¬ricane 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 Partner¬ship (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 Satellite-R Series (GOES-R)

    Geostationary 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 early 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.

Satellite Products

The Office of Satellite Products and Operations (OSPO) collects, processes and distributes environmental satellite data and derived products about Earth's weather, atmosphere, oceans, land and near-space conditions to domestic and foreign users. OSPO also manages and directs the operation of the central ground facilities which ingest, process and distribute environmental satellite data and derived products. OSPO maintains a continuous and reliable stream of satellite data and products.

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