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About NOAA's TIROS-N Weather Satellites

A NOAA TIROS-N satellite The words "weather satellite" refer to a whole family of Earth-orbiting satellites we use to learn about the air, water and land around us. In fact, they are environmental satellites.

These satellites are operated by the United States government, the government agencies of other countries, and commercial businesses. Best known are the satellites operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA operates weather satellites in geostationary orbit (GOES) and in polar orbits (POES). The polar-orbiting NOAA satellites, also known as TIROS, are the eyes-in-the-skies used to track wildlife.

Other satellites used for environmental observation include:
  • METEOSAT - a European geostationary satellite. The United States has access to Meteosat weather data.
  • METEOR - Russia's polar orbiting satellites. One was METEOR-3/TOMS, which carried the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer.
  • LANDSAT - a high-resolution Earth observation satellite operated by NOAA and private industry.
  • SeaWiFs - an oceanographic satellite.
  • EOS AM - an Earth Observation Satellite.
  • METOP - a future European polar-orbiting satellite.
  • RADARSAT - Canadian satellites.
  • MOS, JERS, ADEOS, GMS - Japanese Satellites
TIROS Satellites

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) series of Advanced TIROS-N (ATN) satellites has been in use since 1978.

TIROS satellites fly in circular polar sun-synchronous orbits at an altitude of approximately 525 miles. They are inclined about 98 degrees. NOAA maintains at least two operating satellites in complementary orbits. One crosses the equator at local solar times of approximately 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., while the other crosses at 2:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Even-numbered satellites cover the morning orbit and odd-numbered satellites the afternoon orbit.

NOAA Satellite Launches

The first of the current generation of NOAA satellites was the prototype TIROS-N launched in 1978. These TIROS satellites have been launched:
TIROS-N   1978
NOAA-6   1979
NOAA-7   1981
NOAA-8   1983
NOAA-9   1984
NOAA-10   1986
NOAA-11   1988
NOAA-12   1991
NOAA-14   1994
NOAA-15   1998
Uses for the NOAA Satellites

The TIROS satellites are used primarily for meteorological applications. They also carry the TIROS Operational Vertical Sounder (TOVS), a low-data-rate atmospheric sounding package, the Advanced Very-High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), and the ARGOS Data Collection System for global data telemetry and geo-positioning services.

Those additional instruments have proved valuable in a variety of environment linked earth observation applications. They have been used for:

World map composed of pieces from many NOAA satellite images
Satellite Image Example: World Mosaic
European Space Agency melds hundreds of cloud free NOAA satellite images into one world view. Click image for larger 47k view.
  • wild animal and bird tracking
  • drought early warning
  • global vegetation monitoring
  • snow and ice mapping
  • dynamic oceanography
  • hydrology
  • geology
  • detection of forest fires
  • detection of agricultural burning
  • detection of gas flares
  • fire fuel mapping
  • vulcanology
  • air and sea pollution monitoring
  • toxic algal bloom detection
  • continental mapping
Wildlife Tracking by the NOAA Satellites

The wildlife tracking transmitters are miniature electronic devices, which send data about a bird or animal's environment up to the ARGOS Data Collection System system of a NOAA satellite.

As a NOAA weather satellite flies along its orbit above an animal or bird's location, its ARGOS equipment receives and stores data received from the bird or animal. Later, as the NOAA satellite passes over a ground station, ARGOS downlinks the information to the ground station.

The data received by the ground station is sent on to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center where it is analyzed and the information about the animal or bird is extracted and forwarded to scientists.

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