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.

  • 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 predictions. 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 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 and a European polar-orbiting satellite called Metop. When polar-orbiting satellites fly over severe weather, they can also give us very detailed pictures of the storms given how much closer they are to storms than GOES. In addition to weather analysis and forecasting, data from the POES series support a broad range of environmental monitoring applications including climate research and prediction, global sea surface temperature measurements, measurements of temperature and humidity of the atmosphere, ocean dynamics research, volcanic eruption monitoring, forest fire detection and global vegetation analysis. Instruments on POES are critical for providing long-term, sustained observations used for determining the long term changes in climate conditions around the world. Finally, POES assist in search and rescue by locating people, planes and ships, who 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 the Earth's equator at speeds equal to Earth's rotation, which means they maintain their positions. The GOES provide constant monitoring of various areas of the planet. To fully cover Alaska, Hawaii, the entire continental United States and the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean (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, land and ocean temperatures, as well as monitor activities of the sun. 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 1960's, when the Department of Defense (DOD) initiated the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), low, earth-orbiting satellites have provided the military with important environmental information. NOAA operates these satellites on behalf of the U.S. Air Force. 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.

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

    Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/JASON-2 One aspect of climate change is sea level rise, which affects much of the world's population that 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). This is a joint effort by the four organizations to measure sea surface height by using a radar altimeter mounted on a low-earth orbiting satellite called Jason-2. Satellite altimetry data provides sea surface heights for determining ocean circulation, climate change and sea level rise. These sea surface height measurements are necessary for ocean modeling, forecasting El Nin˜o/La Nin˜a events and hurricane intensity prediction.

    Under the OSTM program, NOAA provides day-to-day operation of the Jason-2 satellite distributing data to users around the world.

  • Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)

    Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) JPSS will ensure the continuity of satellite operations is critical to providing the data needed for weather forecasts and climate measurements. Through JPSS, NOAA will be responsible for management and procurement of the satellites and instruments associated with the afternoon orbit, which is most critical to data for weather and climate. NOAA will contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to accomplish some of these tasks. The Department of Defense will be responsible for the morning orbit that is critical to national defense. NOAA will continue its successful partnership with the Air Force by managing the ground systems development and operations of the Air Force satellites.

    The instruments on JPSS will be similar to those developed for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The program will continue the critical climate measurements of Earth radiation budget, total solar irradiance and ozone profiling as had been re-manifested for the NPOESS program.

    The restructured JPSS will continue to address NOAA's requirements to provide global environmental data used in numerical weather prediction models for forecasts, as well as provide space weather observations, search and rescue detection capabilities, and direct read-out and data collection products and services to customers. Data and imagery obtained from the JPSS will increase timeliness, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness of public warnings and forecasts of climate and weather events, thus reducing the potential loss of human life and property and advancing the national economy.

    These changes to the NPOESS program will better ensure continuity of crucial climate observations and weather data in the future. Data from instruments on JPSS will be used to continue long-term, in some cases almost 50 years, of satellite-based climate data records. These data records are unified and coherent long-term environmental observations and products that are critical to climate modelers and decision makers concerned with advancing climate change understanding, prediction, mitigation and adaptation strategies, policies and science. JPSS, with its global view, will play a vital role in continuing these climate data records.

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

    Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R) For nearly 40 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) have provided continuous imagery and data of atmospheric conditions and space weather. GOES’ data products are utilized by the National Weather Service (NWS) for weather monitoring and forecasting operations and 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.

    The next generation of geostationary environmental satellites, the GOES-R Series, will mark the first major technological advances in geostationary observations since 1994. The GOES-R Series satellites will provide continuous imagery and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s Western Hemisphere and space weather monitoring to provide critical atmospheric, hydrologic, oceanic, climatic, solar and space data, improving detection and observations of meteorological phenomena, including improved hurricane track and intensity forecasts, increased thunderstorm and tornado warning lead time and improved aviation route planning. 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 February 2017, GOES-T in April 2019 and GOES-U in October 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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