NASA Spinoff

Radiometers Optimize Local Weather Prediction

“SBIR funding is how we continue to create new technologies,” he says. “It is one of the most effective ways for the government to stimulate innovation. Small businesses are the place where jobs grow in this country, so this is a very powerful and important program.”

Product Outcome

altWhile a commercial version of the NASA radiometer is still in the works, Radiometrics has brought to market a modular radiometer, originally developed under the NASA SBIR to enable the pencil-beam technology. The modular radiometer represents the company’s fourth generation of radiometer products.

“These are sealed radiometers that are actually submersible and have much better performance in many ways,” says Ware.

Radiometrics’ radiometers provide thermodynamic profiling of atmospheric conditions, offering continuous temperature, humidity, and liquid profiles up to 10 km in height. These are parameters, Ware says, that are invisible to the eye but define local weather, making the devices powerful tools for improving local, short-term weather forecasting and producing high-accuracy nowcasting (the forecasting of weather within a 6-hour timeframe). The radiometers function robustly in the presence of radio interference and in all weather conditions, and are fully operable via the Internet from anywhere in the world. Essentially, they are hyperspectral atmospheric observatories that can see in all directions, providing complementary measurements to those gathered by standard weather radiosondes.

The company’s customers employ its products for the prediction of weather conditions like fog and convective storms, which are known to produce hail, strong winds, flash floods, and tornadoes. The radiometers are also used to detect ideal situations for weather modification; by locating high concentrations of the same supercooled droplets that create icing hazards, the instruments can indicate prime cloud targets for seeding with nuclei particles like silver iodide or dry ice.

Chinese officials relied on a network of Radiometrics’ radiometers for anticipating short-term weather and weather modification needs for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and a Radiometrics device was also situated in Whistler, Canada, for the same purposes during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Ware says that the company’s networks are going up in China, India, Japan, Korea, and Europe, and are set to be included in a U.S. profiler network established by the National Weather Service. A Radiometrics radiometer is also part of an aviation weather decision support system established at Dubai International Airport to predict short-term weather for air traffic control.

Ware also notes that the company’s modular, polarimetric radiometers have applications aboard ships and for coastal observatories, looking down at the sea surface to detect salinity and temperature. (Polarized radiometers have the same advantage as polarized sunglasses used by fishermen—they are able to see past the reflected surface glare to indentify underlying signals.)

The modular radiometers are also being used in soil moisture studies; to look at snow pack age, depth, and water content; and to assist with satellite sensor calibration and satellite link loss and prediction. The U.S. Department of Energy has ordered a number of Radiometrics’ fourth-generation, modular radiometers for use in the Atmospheric Radiation Monitoring program, a significant contributor to global climate change research. The same qualities that make a radar/radiometer combination ideal for aircraft icing conditions detection research, says Ware, make the NASA SBIR-derived instrument a key tool for understanding the transfer of radiation through clouds, which is dependent on the distribution of particles in clouds and is one of the biggest uncertainties in global climate models.

In keeping with the typical cycle of successful technology transfer, NASA is also benefiting from Radiometrics’ commercialized, SBIR-derived technology. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has purchased modular radiometers for its Deep Space Network, a worldwide antenna network supporting solar system exploration.