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Sensing & Measurement

How weather satellites have changed the view from up there

SPIE Classics looks at progress in weather satellite technology.

30 August 2017, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2201708.04
Thumb from article 4475

The world's first weather satellite, the Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS-1) launched 57 years ago, 1 April, 1960. Weather satellites have changed how humans view the future, making it possible to foresee weather-related disasters before they arrive and better prepare for them.

The first images from TIROS-1 included blurry thick bands and clusters of clouds over the United States and a typhoon approximately 1,000 miles east of Australia. Since that time, scientists and engineers have continued to develop more sophisticated weather satellite and communications satellite technologies.

TIROS undergoes vibration testing at the Astro-Electronic Products Division of RCA in Princeton, New Jersey

TIROS undergoes vibration testing at the Astro-Electronic Products Division of RCA in Princeton, New Jersey. Credit: NASA


As Hurricane Harvey has been inundating Texas with high winds and record-breaking rainfall, NASA has released a number of views of the hurricane from satellites such as the GOES-16 and the International Space Station (ISS).

Astronaut Randy Bresnik took this photo of Tropical Storm Harvey from the International Space Station on 28 August at 1:27 p.m. CDT.

Astronaut Randy Bresnik took this photo of Tropical Storm Harvey from the International Space Station on 28 August. Credits NASA

Floods caused by extreme precipitation are one of the most frequent and widespread natural hazards. As populations in urban areas grow and the global climate becomes more extreme and variable, flood events are becoming more costly and dangerous. Accurate precipitation monitoring is a key element for improving flood forecasting. Recent advances in satellite remote sensing techniques have enabled precipitation observation, which enables better flood forecasting and water resource management.

GOES-16 captured this geocolor image of Tropical Storm Harvey over the Gulf, on 29 August.

GOES-16 captured this geocolor image of Tropical Storm Harvey over the Gulf on 29 August. Credit: NASA

Urban planning, protection from natural hazards, precision farming, climate treaty verification, efficient airline and ship routing, energy use optimization, and access to natural resources all require reliable and detailed information about our planet's dynamic environment.

Advances in satellite technologies along with the ability to combine and analyze sensor information, and the communications tools for sharing this knowledge are helping address these challenges.

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