NOAA’s polar-orbiting environmental satellites—NOAA-15, NOAA-18 and NOAA-19—orbit 14 times daily from 520 miles above Earth. The planet's rotation allows NOAA-15 to see a different area of the Earth with each pass, giving the spacecraft two complete views of weather and environmental conditions around the world each day.
"NOAA's careful operations and management of polar-orbiting satellites has resulted in over 19 years of operations for NOAA-15, far exceeding its planned five year lifetime,” said Vanessa Griffin, Director of NOAA's Office of Satellite and Product Operations.
She also noted that NOAA-15 not only provides critical information about the environment, but also serves as part of the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) program that has enabled the rescue of over 7,700 people in the United States since 1982.
Data from polar-orbiting satellites support a broad range of environmental monitoring applications, including weather analysis and forecasting, climate research and prediction, global sea surface temperature measurements, atmospheric soundings of temperature and humidity, ocean dynamics research, volcanic eruption monitoring, forest fire detection, global vegetation analysis and more.
Known as NOAA-K before reaching orbit, NOAA-15 was launched on May 13, 1998. Once operational, NOAA-15 replaced NOAA-12 in the afternoon polar orbit.
This design of this polar-orbiting satellite, then the latest in the TIROS-N (ATN) series, was based on the spacecraft of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. The instruments aboard include:
- An enhanced High Resolution Infrared Radiation Sounder,
- The French (CNES) provided improved ARGOS Data Collection System, Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System devices,
- Advanced Microwave Sounding Units (or AMSUs), which offer microwave measurements of global atmospheric temperature profiles, including in cloudy regions where visible and infrared instruments have decreased capability. Data from NOAA-15's AMSUs are used extensively in weather prediction and long-term AMSU records are also used in studies of climate.
- A six-channel Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (or AVHRR), a scanning instrument that provides data used by thousands of researchers over the world in numerous applications over ocean, land, cryosphere and atmosphere. Data from the visible and near-IR channels provide information on vegetation, clouds, snow, and ice. Data from the near-IR and thermal channels provide information on the land and ocean surface temperature and radiative properties of clouds. The AVHRR was the precursor to the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite instrument onboard the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite.
NOAA-15's Current Role
In its prime, NOAA-15 monitored Earth's atmosphere, surface and cloud cover, and collected data on a range of environmental factors. Today, the satellite serves as the back-up to EUMETSAT's Metop-B satellite, which provides data in the morning, and continues to serve as part of the SARSAT system, which as of July 31, 2017, assisted in the rescue of 158 people so far this year. NOAA-15 also collects data from buoys and remote weather stations for the ARGOS (Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite) program dedicated to environmental study and protection.
Learn more about the history of NOAA satellites by checking out our new timeline!
To learn more about NOAA-15's status and NOAA’s other polar-orbiting satellites, visit our website.
Additional information on NOAA-15 is available on NASA's Space Science Data Archive.