Spaceflight Now: Mission Report

New weather craft snaps its first image after good launch

Posted: Sept. 22, 2000

  East Coast
One of the first views from the new NOAA-16 satellite shows the eastern coast of the U.S. from New England to Florida. Photo: NOAA
The new global weather satellite launched Thursday has already opened its eye on planet Earth, beaming back pictures of Greenland and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

The $209 million spacecraft was lofted into a polar orbit by a Titan 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Liftoff occurred at 1022 GMT (3:22 a.m. PDT; 6:22 a.m. EDT).

Six-and-a-half minutes later, the two stage vehicle released the NOAA-L satellite on a ballistic trajectory. The craft's onboard kick motor fired minutes later to finish the task of delivering the Lockheed Martin-built satellite into a near-circular perch around 470 miles high, orbiting around Earth's poles and covering virtually the entire world twice a day.

Within an hour of takeoff, ground controllers had established contact with the satellite, confirmed its power-generating solar array was extended and various communications antennas were deployed.

Now in space, the craft was renamed NOAA-16 and entered a two-month process of thorough testing before it will replace the aging NOAA-14 satellite launched six years ago. NOAA-14 has drifted out of the proper orbit and surpassed its design life. NOAA's polar system features two primary satellites.

NOAA operates two different types of spacecraft -- the polar-orbiting satellites like the one launched Thursday that cover the entire planet and geostationary craft that fly 22,300 miles up and are fixed over one part of the world.

The geostationary satellites are used for 'now-casting', or short-term weather forecasting and severe storm warnings. The polar satellites are tools for creating long-range forecasts and providing global coverage.

"Both kinds of of satellites are necessary to provide a complete global weather and environmental monitoring system," explained Gary Davis, Office of Systems Development director for NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service.

"The polar orbiter is just as important to us as the geostationary satellite is," said John Jones, deputy director of the National Weather Service. "The satellites together provide over 83 percent of all the data that goes into our numerical forecast models. It is these models that we use to help forecast the weather.

"Because (the polar orbiter) flies at a lower really provides us with a big picture of the atmosphere. We get a 3-D view of the atmosphere that provides us with a lot of the major factors we need to forecast the weather. It allows the forecaster to look atmospheric triggers response for severe weather."

The Titan 2 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex-4 West. An infrared tracking camera shows the second stage igniting and blowing the spent first stage back to Earth. The final view shows the three sections of the rocket's nose cone separating. Photos: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
NOAA-16 is the second in a series of five new global weather satellites that will operate through the end of this decade, offering improved imaging and sounding capabilities that create three-dimensional slices of atmosphere to measure temperature and humidity.

Their updated instruments can also distinguish clouds from snow, an important advancement that allows meteorologists to monitor snow melting to provide better flood predictions.

"The mission objective of the polar system is to provide an uninterrupted flow of global environment data for purposes of global imagery, temperature and humidity profiles, land and ocean surface observations," said Mike Mignogno, NOAA's manager of the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite program.

Uses for such information from satellites is used to generate long-term weather forecasts, monitoring drought, soil moisture and land use measurement, polar ice coverage and ocean currents. The aviation industry also relies on detection of aerosol and volcanic ash in the atmosphere for routing of aircraft.

The satellite also carries an onboard instrument that will measure the distribution of ozone, which is important to environmental research.

"This will extend our unbroken record of measurements of ozone, which began over 20 years ago on NASA's Nimbus 7 satellite," Mignogno said.

Its sophisticated package of sensors will not only monitor the Earth's weather but also study the space environment such as the powerful streams of particles from the Sun that can disrupt orbiting satellites and communications here at home.

The satellite also carries another receiver that relays distress signals from ships, aircraft and individuals in distress. The 31-country program is credited with rescuing 11,000 people since 1982, said Ajay Mehta, NOAA's search and rescue manager.

NOAA-16 becomes the 8th NOAA polar orbiting satellite to carry the rescue system.

Looking ahead, the next Titan 2 launch is scheduled for January 15 when a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program military weather spacecraft will be boosted into polar orbit for the Pentagon. The NOAA-M satellite is due to follow on May 18 with its launch from Vandenberg on another Titan 2.

Take a pad tour
Spaceflight Now visited the Titan 2 rocket's launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in August. We now present a virtual tour! START

Video vault
The Titan 2 rocket launches with the NOAA-L global weather satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as seen on NASA TV.
  PLAY (264k, 23sec QuickTime file)
An alternate launch pad camera shows the Titan 2 lifting off from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex-4 West. .
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A video camera mounted to the fixed umbilical tower of the launch pad captures a spectacular view of the Titan 2 rocket roaring to life and lifting off.
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The first stage of the Titan 2 rocket shuts down and separates as the second stage ignites as seen by an infrared tracking camera.
  PLAY (238k, 27sec QuickTime file)
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Flight data file
Vehicle: Titan 2
Payload: NOAA-L
Launch date: Sept. 21, 2000
Launch window: 1022-1032 GMT (6:22-6:32 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-4W, Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

Pre-launch briefing
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Titan 2 - Description of the former ICBM missile converted to a space launch vehicle.

NOAA-L - A look at the NOAA-L weather satellite and its purpose in environmental research.