ust two months after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was founded, the first satellite with the official NOAA designation was launched

to improve cloud cover observations for more accurate

weather forecasts


The NOAA-1 satellite launched into near-polar orbit on a Delta

rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

NOAA-1 – and the current crop of NOAA Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites – was launched in a sun-synchronous orbit to maintain constant sunlight exposure throughout the year, NOAA spokesman John Leslie wrote in a Dec. 6 e-mail.

Though not the first near-polar-orbiting

weather satellite –

or even the first in its series – NOAA-1

was the first to bear the NOAA moniker. NOAA was founded in October 1970 from

numerous federal agencies tasked with observing the environment and weather.

Varying cloud cover levels are a good indicator of temperature, humidity and weather variations, said Ray Williamson, a research professor at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute in Washington.

While various weather and environmental measuring devices – including balloons – provided the United States with

a “fairly good” understanding of weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere


polar-orbiting satellites enabled the nation to provide weather measurements on a global scale, Williamson said in a Dec. 4 interview.

Two polar-orbiting satellites provide nearly complete Earth coverage in a day, but three are

necessary for complete coverage with some overlap, Williamson said.

The first near-polar-orbiting meteorological satellites – Tiros-9 and Tiros-10 – were the last in the Television Infrared Observation Satellites series,

according to the NOAA Web site.

Tiros-9 and Tiros-10, which both launched in 1965, used low-resolution television and infrared cameras to observe cloud cover in Earth’s atmosphere, according to the Encyclopedia Astronautica Web site.

The next near-polar-orbiting satellites were named for the

Environmental Science Services Administration, which NOAA absorbed when it formed. They

were the first entire series of polar-orbiting meteorological satellites, NOAA’s Web site said.

From February 1966 to February 1969 a total of nine ESSA satellites were launched.

The next generation – of which NOAA-1 was the second satellite in the series

– was the

Improved Tiros Operating Satellites (ITOS) series, which also was managed by the Environmental Science Services Administration. The ITOS satellites

used advanced television cameras and a flat plate radiometer to measure infrared signals. The first ITOS spacecraft, ITOS-1, was launched in January 1970.

The ITOS was the first series of meteorological satellites to be “three-axis stabilized,” said Gary Davis, director of NOAA’s Office of Systems Development within the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service. That orientation gave them a “much better opportunities to aim instruments including infrared imagers and sounders toward the earth,” Davis said in a Dec. 6 e-mail message.

NOAA-1, also called ITOS-A,

added two scanning radiometers, which

served as

backups in case the onboard cameras failed, and a solar proton monitor to take daily accounts of solar proton events, the periodic ejection of high-energy particles from the sun.

Despite the backups, NOAA-1 did no


last a full year. The 306-kilogram satellite

operated nominally until May 29, 1971, when its incremental tape recorder failed, causing it to lose some of its solar proton data and all of its low-resolution radiometer data, according to NASA’s Web site.

NOAA-1 then experienced a series of system malfunctions, which ultimately resulted

in its deactivation Aug. 19, 1971.

NASA continues to launch

meteorological satellites

in near-polar orbit under the NOAA designation. The latest NOAA satellite, NOAA-18,

launched May 20, 2005.
NASA continues to construct NOAA satellites under an interagency agreement, NOAA’s Web site said.