POES-18 satellite in orbit above Earth.

POES-18 satellite (Image credit: NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have jointly developed a valuable series of Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites (POES). These satellites have been in orbit since 1978.

Museum display of TIROS satellite prototype.
Prototype of first weather satellite (TIROS-1) in Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
(Image credit: Wikipedia)

The POES system consists of maintaining a pair of satellites, which ensures that every part of the Earth is regularly observed at least twice every 12 hours. The satellites provide global coverage of numerous atmospheric and surface data, delivering measurements for input to global weather models used to predict weather conditions 3-7 days in advance. As users around the world have learned how to exploit these satellite data, the accuracy of predictions of potentially catastrophic environmental events have improved significantly. Improved prediction of these events allows emergency managers to activate plans to reduce their effect and protect life and property. In many developing countries and over much of the oceans, satellite data from POES are the only source of information on the state of the atmosphere and of the Earth's surface, and is an invaluable source of real-time information about severe weather, critical to safety in remote areas. The satellites also provide global images of clouds and surface features such as droughts, floods, volcanic eruptions and ice cover. Other sensors provide data on ozone distribution in the upper atmosphere, and in-situ measurements of the Earth’s radiation belts and the flux of charged particles at satellite altitude.

The POES satellites can broadcast high-resolution, real time data from instruments to local users around the world. Data are continuously recorded on board the satellites as they orbit the Earth. The data stream is downloaded once per orbit as the satellite passes over a Command and Data Acquisition station.

The first-ever image from a weather satellite.

The first image from a weather satellite, from TIROS-1
on April 1, 1960. (Image credit: NASA and NOAA)

There have been 15 POES missions launched since NOAA-6 was placed in orbit in 1979, and 13 have exceeded their expected 2-year operational life. There are currently three POES satellites NOAA 15, 18, and 19 that serve as backup to S-NPP and NOAA 20.

Timeline of operational polar-orbiting satellites from 1978 to 2004.

A timeline of U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellites from TIROS-N
through NOAA-17. (Image credit: NOAA)

For more information about the POES satellite program, please visit: the NOAA OSPO POES website.