For decades, researchers, scientists and meteorologists have relied on passive microwave sensors to collect Earth observations about the atmosphere, the surface, and water that is either in the atmosphere or on the Earth’s surface. However, there are limits to what these sensors can do, often because the presence of rain, ice or clouds in the atmosphere can interfere with the resolution and accuracy of the sensors.
NOAA’s Joint Venture Partnerships program is exploring new instrument technology, called Hyperspectral Microwave Sensor (HyMS), that shows potential to improve Numerical Weather Prediction. Overseen by the Office of System Architecture and Advanced Planning (OSAAP), in the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), the Joint Venture Partnerships program is engaging the commercial aerospace industry to test and demonstrate the technology over a two-year period.
Dr. Sid Boukabara, formerly the principal scientist for OSAAP, explained why the new technology is important, and what it could mean: “When you are in a situation where you only have blue skies, it’s easy to get the different sounding levels from a passive microwave sensor. When you add precipitation and clouds, there are too many variables to measure. What we want to see is whether a hyperspectral microwave sensor could add additional information to resolve that mixed signal you get from the presence of water vapor, rain, ice particles in the atmosphere.”
The way the HyMS technology works is that it uses both high-spectral resolution in imaging and sounding microwave bands. Traditional microwave sensors have fewer channels, and none of them are completely independent, meaning water in the atmosphere would mix signals in some of the channels. By adding the high-spectral resolution imaging and sounding microwave bands, data users could get much better observations in all-weather conditions, and reduce uncertainties to improve the precision and accuracy of the data.
“We realized that this technology could increase the performance of the soundings we are taking, and we saw the potential to improve Numerical Weather Prediction so our forecasts are more accurate not just for the next few days, but also what’s happening now,” Boukabara said.
NOAA is funding space-based, airborne and balloon-based demonstrations, with each demonstrating a different application of hyperspectral technology for NOAA to assess. “An airborne sensor may give you limited information of all the aspects and challenges you’d experience if you conducted a space-based demonstration, but it will give you the diversity of situations we’re seeking to cover, and the advantage of putting it on an airplane is that you can always bring it back, work on it, and improve the technology,” Boukabara said.
One of the companies awarded a Joint Venture Partnership to test HyMS technology is the global satellite company Spire, which is designing a HyMS that it intends to launch into orbit next year for a demonstration. Joint Venture Partnership is also working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to leverage HyMS technologies originally developed for the NASA Earth Science Technology Office to determine their potential benefit for NOAA’s mission.