JPSS-1 will kick off next era of polar satellites

By Teri West

NASA and NOAA will launch the JPSS-1 Satellite from California Tuesday, Nov. 14, the first of four next generation satellites which orbit pole to pole collecting global data on atmospheric conditions.
Polar satellites allow for high accuracy weather forecasting up to a week in advance, said NOAA’s Mitch Goldberg, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) chief scientist.
“All the major weather prediction centers throughout the world, they use our data,” he said.
In addition to weather forecasting, polar satellites offer unique sensor arrays and imaging capabilities to provide data on regional conditions.
Goldberg noted that a night vision sensor on JPSS-1 would be capable of locating power outages, while valuable imagery resources could be used to measure snowfall or observe polar climatic conditions. 
The JPSS mission is a collaborative program between NOAA and NASA created in 2010 after the two agencies branched off from the Department of Defense for the polar satellite missions. The team launched the Suomi NPP satellite in 2011, a bridge between the previous generation of satellites and the JPSS generation.  
“We were lucky to have Suomi NPP because that gave us our window into the future and allowed us to get ready for [JPSS-1], so we’re really ready for it now because everything has been tested,” Goldberg said.  
The three additional JPSS satellites are slated for launch between 2021 and 2031, noted NOAA Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR) director Harry Cikanek at the recent 2017 Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites-Maryland (CICS-MD) annual science meeting, 
This is good news for Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) visiting scientist Huang Meng, who utilizes satellite data to develop products that measure snowfall rates. Meng, along with a team of ESSIC/CICS-MD and NOAA scientists, developed a snowfall rate product compatible with the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) aboard JPSS-1, which has expansive land coverage. Having figures from JPSS-1 in addition to Suomi NPP will provide more complete data.
“JPSS…will provide one more good sensor for us,” Meng said. “It will reduce the temporal gap between satellites.”
ESSIC researchers like sea ice scientist Alek Petty will be able to use the satellite for both data collection and direct observation. 
Although Petty noted that there are limitations with the instrument’s direct imaging resources, it nevertheless affords scientists with new capabilities.   
The imagery will be obscured if there are clouds, but on a clear day the resolution will be expansive and multi-angled, allowing for visibility of cracks in ice, Petty said. 
The satellite is also critical for real-time analysis which government agencies can use for decision-making. After Hurricane Harvey, NOAA used satellite data for flood mapping, which was valuable for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
According to Goldberg however, the overarching mission of JPSS-1 is weather forecasting. The global span of polar satellite data is what allows for accurate forecasts days in advance. 
“They did an experiment about five years ago for Hurricane Sandy, when they took out all that data from the model,” Goldberg said. “So they reran it and the five day forecast was that Hurricane Sandy would stay out to sea as opposed to moving in, so it’s really critical.”
The satellite took years of preparation, which Goldberg reflected on last Monday before heading across the country for a busy week leading up to the launch.
“I’m proudest of the people working on this,” Goldberg stated. “There’s a lot of people working on this project and they’re very dedicated, they’re excited. It took us a while to get to this point.”