Northrop Grumman Corporation
Azusa, CA

Two critical instruments built by Northrop Grumman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) newest weather satellite were activated and are successfully performing post-launch procedures after reaching orbit.

The Joint Polar Satellite System 1 (JPSS-1) spacecraft, known as NOAA-20, was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base last November. The key Northrop Grumman-built instruments are the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), a next-generation cross-track microwave sounder; and the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) FM-6.

Insight for Weather Prediction

In January, the NOAA-20 ATMS reached provisional maturity status, meaning that ATMS data products were potentially ready for operational use. Data gathered by the ATMS Microwave Integrated Retrieval System technology is successfully generating atmospheric temperature vertical profiles from the Earth’s surface to an altitude of 45 kilometers, as well as images of the location and abundance of water vapor, precipitation, and snow and ice cover. Water vapor distribution and vertical temperature science data are critical measurements for improving short- and long-term global and regional weather forecasts. With the detailed information ATMS provides, forecasters can better identify the transport of water vapor associated with jet streams, giving valuable insight to the nature of expected weather and the duration of any weather system such as heavy rains leading to flooding, long-term dry conditions leading to drought, and the direction and intensity of hurricanes.

This image uses ATMS data to depict the location and abundance of water vapor in the lower atmosphere, from the surface of the Earth to 5 kilometers altitude. Blue-green and purple colors depict areas with less water vapor, while transparent/grey colors represent abundant water in all phases (vapor, clouds, and precipitation) in low and middle latitudes. In the polar regions, purple depicts surface snow and ice. Water vapor distribution in space and time is a critical measurement for improving global weather forecasts. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

“With the severity of weather experienced this past year, early weather prediction is becoming more crucial in protecting lives and property. We are excited that these sensors will provide the technological capabilities necessary to improve weather prediction accuracy,” said Bob Mehltretter, vice president, military and civil space for Northrop Grumman.

CERES FM-6, which measures reflected sunlight and thermal radiation, also is performing as expected. The covers on CERES were opened January 5, allowing it to scan the surface of the Earth for the first time. CERES allows scientists to collect data to monitor the temperature of the planet and validate models that calculate the effect of clouds in driving planetary heating or cooling. This data can also be used to predict weather events such as El Niño and La Niña — climactic fluctuations in the temperature of the tropical Pacific Ocean that can influence weather globally.

Observing Natural and Manmade Events

The first data collected from the NOAA-20 instruments is preliminary and part of a series of startups and checkouts that will take place before the satellite becomes fully operational later this year.

In this shortwave image from CERES FM-6, the white and green shades represent thick cloud cover reflecting incoming solar energy back to space. Compare that with the darker blue regions, which have no cloud cover, to get a sense for how much clouds can affect the balance of incoming and outgoing energy on Earth. (NASA)
In this longwave image from CERES FM-6, heat energy radiated from Earth is represented by shades of yellow, red, blue, and white. Bright yellow regions are the hottest and emit the most energy out to space. Dark blue and bright white regions, which represent clouds, are much colder and emit the least energy. (NASA)

NOAA-20 will join the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite in the same polar orbit, operating about 50 minutes ahead of Suomi NPP. These two satellites will revisit the same part of the Earth at different times.

This important coverage provides scientists with observations of atmospheric temperature and moisture, clouds, hurricane intensity, sea-surface temperature, ocean color, snow and ice cover, volcanic ash, smoke plumes, and fire detection.

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