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Satellite Data Collection System (DCS) Transmitter Test Explainer

January 9, 2023

Every day, thousands of in-situ weather sensors across North America – on ocean buoys, mountaintop stations, even on bridges and buildings – deliver up to a million local data points to receivers on two NOAA geosynchronous (high-earth) satellites, GOES-East and GOES-West. That data is “bounced” back down to a ground station, where it is analyzed to generate information valuable to first-responders, emergency managers, farmers and others.

Today, the Joint Venture Partnerships run by NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Services (NESDIS) Is exploring the feasibility of reproducing that Data Collection System (DCS) capability in low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. If NESDIS finds it practical, a LEO DCS would significantly expand the geographic range from which environmental data can be collected, potentially improving weather prediction tools, products and services. 

Currently, because the ground sensors must be in line-of-sight of the receiving satellite, data is collected only from North American regions covered by the GOES satellites. But LEO satellites offer global coverage, which could allow NOAA to collect data from other regions of the world that drive climate and weather patterns, such as the Southern Ocean. 

“We want to prove that the LEO satellite can use the DCS capability the same way that a geosynchronous satellite uses it – picking up the raw data from these thousands of mobile sensors, and then sending it back down to the ground system for processing,” said Beau Backus, senior spectrum manager with Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, and a consultant with the Joint Venture Program overseen by NESDIS. “If proven, this capability gives us another valuable tool to expand where on the Earth we can pick up these mobile sensor observations and measure more of what’s happening with the Earth’s environment.” 

The in-situ measurements collected by the mobile, surface-based sensors provide important data to generate observations on river flooding, wildfires, high wind speed, and other weather events. 

Working with NASA’s Ames Research Center, NOAA will test the DCS on a commercial cubesat (i.e., small satellite) scheduled to launch in June 2023. Commercial partner Microcom Design Inc., is managing the ground station data retrieval and the hosted payload engineering. Aerospace Corp. is managing the flight experimentation. Other strategic partners engaged with NOAA on the Joint Venture DCS test include the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

The Joint Venture Partnerships explores emerging technology innovations in partnership with other federal agencies, academia and industry. Joint Venture exploration of new capability is not a commitment to a future NOAA mission.