AMS meeting investigates roles for commercial and small satellites in weather forecasting

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AUSTIN, Texas — Atmospheric and space scientists gathering at the 98th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society this week will be sharing information on a wide range of topics, including future government and commercial weather satellites of all sizes.

The event is expected to draw about 4,500 people and feature expert reports on the role U.S. Defense Department, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and commercial weather satellites will play in future weather forecasts.

NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service plans to highlight the agency’s progress in updating its weather satellite constellations, including the 2017 launch of NOAA-20, the first spacecraft in the Joint Polar Satellite System, and the recent commissioning of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) 16, the next-generation weather satellite, and to brief conference participants on future plans.

In March, NOAA is scheduled to launch its second next-generation geostationary weather satellite, GOES-S, on an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Then, NOAA and Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology plan to send six Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) 2 radio occultation weather satellites into equatorial orbit in the summer of 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Meanwhile, NOAA is grappling with the impact of new technology and new players in the weather satellite arena. During a Jan. 9 Town Hall meeting, “The Weather Value Chain of the Future: From NewSpace to NOAA,” government and industry representatives, including Conrad Lautenbacher, former NOAA administrator and current president of GeoOptics, a commercial weather data company in Boulder, Colorado, and Karen St. Germain, systems architecture and advanced planning director for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, will discuss the opportunities and challenges.

At the same time, NOAA is looking ahead to the 2030s. On Jan. 10, St. Germain is scheduled to share results of a two-year study on the constellations of operational environmental satellites the United States will rely on after the Joint Polar Satellite System and the GOES-R series missions.

During the AMS meeting, the U.S. Air Force is expected to share details of its plans to upgrade its military weather satellite constellation as part of Weather System Follow-On, an $856 million campaign to develop satellites and sensors to track weather-related phenomenon, including ocean surface winds, tropical cyclones and energetic charged particles in low Earth orbit.

For the first time, the AMS meeting includes an Earth Observing Smallsats conference to focus attention on satellites weighing less than 500 kilograms and used to monitor Earth’s atmosphere, water, ecosystems and frozen regions. That conference agenda includes presentations by many of the companies and organizations obtaining weather data with cubesats, including San Francisco-based Spire Global, which plans to employ a large constellation of cubesats to gather global weather and climate data.