Photo: AP

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched the Joint Polar Satellite System-1, the first in a “series of four highly advanced polar-orbiting satellites,” NASA announced on Saturday, with the agencies touting they expect significant improvements to their weather-forecasting abilities when JPSS-1 comes online in three months.

“Emergency managers increasingly rely on our forecasts to make critical decisions and take appropriate action before a storm hits,” NOAA National Weather Service director Louis W. Uccellini wrote in the statement. “Polar satellite observations not only help us monitor and collect information about current weather systems, but they provide data to feed into our weather forecast models.”

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JPSS-1 is 14.8 feet in diameter (4.5 meters) and weighs 5,060 pounds (roughly 2,300 kilograms), and was one of the last NASA satellites scheduled to be powered into orbit by the Delta II rocket system. It will circle the Earth approximately 14 times a day at an elevation of 512 miles (824 kilometers).

Per the NASA release, JPSS-1 carries five instruments the agencies say will provide “meteorologists with observations of atmospheric temperature and moisture, clouds, sea-surface temperature, ocean color, sea ice cover, volcanic ash, and fire detection.” Program director Greg Mandt told Space.com the onboard suite consists of “instruments so precise that they can measure the temperature to better than a tenth of a degree from the surface of the Earth all the way to the edge of space.”

Its similarly polar-orbiting predecessor, Suomi NPP, was intended as a test of the technology involved in JPSS-1's construction but has since become a valuable meteorological tool. Once it has completed its three-month testing and calibration phase and been put into active service, JPSS-1 will be rechristened NOAA-20.

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JPSS-1 is particularly important at a time when climate change is likely raising the likelihood of extreme weather events like the hurricanes that ravaged the Gulf coast and the Caribbean this year, as well as increasing the intensity of other phenomena like wildfires like California. Better instruments mean better forecasts, which can aid in scheduling evacuations and preparing for storm impacts, as well as better imaging capabilities after disasters, which aid rescue and recovery efforts.

[NASA/Engadget]