How NASA Predicts the Weather

America's current combined fleet of civilian and military weather monitoring satellites are quickly nearing the end of their operational life spans. It's a big deal; these satellites provide accurate weather reports for a lot of major government agencies including NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense (not to mention our allies). But while the DoD scrambles to replace its aging Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and the Europeans are launching their own HD weather stations, NASA and the NOAA are working together to launch the next generation of environmental satellites.

Dubbed the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), these two (technically three) satellites will provide the global environmental data that meteorologists around the world rely on to make their predictions—both for the five day forecast and for tornado/hurricane warnings—the as well as heaps of scientific climate data.

The JPSS program began in February of 2010 at the behest of the White House after the cancellation of the existing National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program. The new satellites are being built by a consortium of four defense contractors: Ball Aerospace, Raytheon, ITT and Northrop Grumman.

The first JPSS satellite to launch was originally part of the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (SNPP), a precursor to the JPSS that had been rolled into the current program. The NOAA manages and operates the satellites while NASA designs and builds them. It launched in 2011 and carries prototypes of the five instruments employed by the JPSS-1.

How NASA Predicts the Weather

These instruments are designed to collect a variety of "meteorological, oceanographic, climatological, and solar-geophysical observations of the earth land, oceans, atmosphere, and near-earth space," according to the NOAA. They carry a Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), an advanced operational sounder that accurately surveys and calculates atmospheric and temperature readings to generate a three-dimensional measure of the atmosphere including the presence of moisture and trace gasses.

The JPSS-1 also carries an Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS), which measures how much ozone is present in a given column of atmosphere; a Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) for imaging clouds and other atmospheric vapors; the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), which works much the same as the CrIS but with microwaves rather than infrared; and the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant System (CERES) which, according to the NOAA website, "helps provide measurements of the space and time distribution of the Earth's Radiation Budget (ERB) components, further developing a quantitative understanding of the links between the ERB and the properties of the atmosphere and surface that define the budget."

The JPSS-1 itself is the first of the two next-generation weather satellites that make up the meat of the JPSS program. It is scheduled to launch between November 2016 and early 2017 aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The JPSS-2, has not yet been scheduled for launch, will carry only the VIIRS, CrIS, ATMS, and OMPS.

All three of these satellites, as well as the Air Force's Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS), are controlled by the JPSS Common Ground System (CGS), a global network of NOAA receiving stations that receive incoming data packets from the satellite as it passes overhead and redistributes it to the worldwide public. Your local weatherman won't have any excuses for borking next weekend's forecast once the JPSS satellites are in the air. [NOAA - Wikipedia - NOAA News - Raytheon]