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Weather forecasters plan future satellites

/ Source: The Associated Press

Ready for the launch of a new weather satellite next month, government forecasters also are turning their attention a decade ahead to plan for what their eyes in the sky will need to be like in the future.

The GOES-N satellite is scheduled for launch in May, with two more launches over the next two years to complete that series of satellites.

That means it's time to plan for future satellites, expected to go up in 2014 or later, and the effort gets under way next week with a meeting of some 200 weather satellite experts in Broomfield, Colo.

"We will explain what we think it ought to do and listen to what they think it needs," John J. Kelly Jr., Commerce deputy undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere, said Thursday.

The GOES satellites sit in fixed positions over a spot on the equator, one watching the East Coast and Atlantic Ocean, the other observing the West Coast and Pacific.

They provide visible images of storms such as hurricanes so often seen on television broadcasts. But they also carry instruments that collect infrared radiation which allows meteorologists to determine temperatures in the air and water, and other instruments that can determine humidity, wind and other details that aid in storm forecasting.

Kelly said the new satellite scheduled to go up in May should also benefit forecasters in hurricane season, which begins June 1.

These satellites have stronger batteries, allowing them to continue collecting data and send it back even during eclipses when the Earth blocks sunlight from the solar collectors that power the instruments. Solar eclipses occur only occasionally as seen from Earth. But Tony Comberiate, program manager for the next generation of satellites, said they can be a problem in space, especially during the fall hurricane season.

In addition, GOES-N and its two followup birds are designed to be more stable than current satellites, allowing them to more accurately determine the location of storms, Kelly said.

While the Colorado session will begin refining the needs of the next generation of stationary weather satellites, some aspects of the project are known.

  • The satellites, known as GOES-R, will scan the Earth five times faster than current equipment, sharply increasing the amount of data available.
  • They will be able to scan the full hemisphere and local areas at the same time rather than having to do one or the other.
  • GOES-R will provide nearly continuous images of hurricanes and severe thunderstorms.
  • The satellites will monitor coastal waters, allowing scientists to study coastal ecosystems.
  • They will provide more detail of winds, temperature and moisture and will be able to continuously monitor lightning flashes.

In addition to discussing future satellite meeds next week's conference also will bring together weather satellite experts from around the world to discuss their operations and compare programs.