With a scheduled launch of 1:47 AM on November 10th, 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, CA, the first in a series of highly advanced polar orbiting satellites, collectively called the Joint Polar Satellite System (abbreviated JPSS) will be launched into orbit on board a Delta-II rocket.
Yesterday, October 11, NOAA and NASA held a joint conference call with members of the media to provide an update on the status of the upcoming launch. Giving both a prepared speech and answering questions from the media were Dr. Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, Ajay Mehta, acting deputy director for systems of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, Greg Mandt, director of the Joint Polar Satellite System, Dr. Mitch Goldberg, JPSS lead scientist, and Sandra Smalley, director of NASA’s Joint Agency Satellite division.
Ajay Mehta kicked off the media event with an excited tone. “These are very exciting times for both NASA and NOAA, as well as all the members of the group who worked on any aspect of JPSS-1,” the first satellite of the Joint Polar Satellite System. He continued by saying that the ultimate goal of this satellite, as well as the other JPSS satellites that will follow over the next few decades, is to “improve NOAA’s data acquisition that will lead to better weather forecasts.” He stated that the team work between NOAA, NASA and other private contractors involved in this project has been outstanding. “In my 6 plus years of being part of this team of individuals and corporations, the communication and understanding that went on to accomplish such an immense goal as getting the JPSS-1 functional and ready to launch has been amazing to see.”
NOAA head Dr. Louis Uccellini added, “The JPSS will continue the work and lead to new technological advances that recent satellites, such as GOES-16 and Suomi NPP, have begun to show us over the past few years. Particularly important will be the expected advances in the accuracy of weather forecasts in the 3-7 day range.”
Dr. Uccellini explained the importance of the improvement in the 3-7 day weather forecasts indicating that, “Studies and real world examples over the past few months of Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey, as well as the on-going horrific wildfires in northern California, have shown that this 3-7 day period is vitally important in the preparation for natural disasters. Getting residents properly warned and/or prepared, getting extra emergency personnel in place and ready, as well as beginning the immense task of gathering and transporting needed supplies such as medical, food and water to where they are needed, all starts in the 3-7 day period before a disaster strikes. I don’t think it is a coincidence that improved forecasts of the three hurricanes mentioned above led to death rates that were lower than similar hurricanes, such as Katrina. And these new technologically advanced satellites helped improve the forecasts and thus save lives. The hope is that the JPSS can continue this trend, hopefully in an even more dramatic fashion.”
The scientific community is eager to get their hands on data that JPSS-1 will be able to provide. “About 90 days after the launch, after data experts have had the time to verify that the information coming in from JPSS-1 is accurate, the stream of data will be incorporated into the various weather models that NOAA runs,” said Greg Mandt.
Data captured by JPSS-1 will be used by major global models, including the American GFS and the European ECMWF. Dr. Uccellini said, “We are proud with the advancements we felt have been made in the American models over the past few years. And having even better data to feed into them will continue the advancement of their accuracy in terms of forecasts. That being said, we have always had a system of great teamwork and cooperation with the meteorological community throughout the globe, including the community that runs the European weather model. We absolutely are willing and plan to share our data with everyone and anyone who wants to use it in a helpful manner.”
Another aspect of the JPSS that is expected to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts and models is a vast improvement of data collection and quality from Arctic and Antarctic regions. “The JPSS will pass over each pole every 90 minutes. Because of the sparse data acquisition due to the limited number of weather stations in these regions of the world, the accuracy and breadth of data used by weather models hasn’t been of the highest quality. We are hopeful that JPSS will dramatically improve the Arctic and Antarctic data being incorporated by the models and will thus lead to better weather forecasts,” Mandt explained.
With the launch less than a month away, the meteorology community is looking forward to having another tool in its toolkit to make more accurate, actionable forecasts. With recent weather disasters of the past few weeks and months have shown, improvements in forecasts translate to saved lives. The hope is that the JPSS continues the positive trend of saving lives due to improved weather forecasts.