Scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are designing and building the next-generation orbiting tracker for NASA that will supply data to more accurately predict the next hurricane, heat wave, or drought.

The 18-inch interferometric receiver being built at UMass Amherst is part of the larger instrument expected to greatly enhance weather forecasting. It works by reflecting 35-GHz microwaves off the Earth's surface from an orbit 600 miles above to track factors that long-range meteorologists use to predict climate phenomena. Knowing water temperature and current flow can help to provide early warning of an El Nino effect, for example.

The receiver is expected to be launched with other supporting instruments aboard the space agency's Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite sometime between 2013 and 2016. It will provide a continually updated map of global water levels, topography and temperature for the oceans and selected inland waters. It is expected to be smaller, lighter, and less power-hungry than the version that flew aboard the space shuttle in 2000.

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