NOAA Takes Portfolio Approach to Earth Observation Mission

SAN FRANCISCO – Led by the Biden Administration, the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) of the National Oceans and Atmosphere Administration takes a portfolio approach.

“For us that means not only launching one satellite at a time and building that satellite really well, but seeing how all the systems work together,” Stephen Volz, deputy administrator of NOAA NESDIS, said on May 25 in a webinar. of the Space Foundation. When NOAA considers obtaining data from geostationary orbit, for example, the agency will look at European and Asian satellite constellations “to see how we can put them together to get the best mix of instruments and observations in the world. the years to come, ”he added.

Likewise, in low Earth orbit, NOAA is preparing for “a significant and fundamental change” in its approach to data collection “by taking advantage of this proliferation of capable observing systems launched by many public domain partners and making the most of using all of these different observations, ”Volz said.

These partners include the European Space Agency, Eumetsat, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NASA and the US Space Force.

At the same time, NOAA is investing heavily in its next generation of Earth observation satellites, as well as terrestrial and computer systems to transfer data and move it to the cloud. Cloud service providers are helping NOAA manage the growing volume of data much more economically and efficiently than it could on its own, Volz said.

The future architecture of NOAA’s Earth observation satellites will be very different from the current one, which includes the Environmental Operational Geostationary Satellite Series-R (GOES-R) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

Current plans call for the GOES-R tracking, called Geostationary and Extended Observations, to include five instruments: a sophisticated imager and a lightning mapper like its predecessors, in addition to sensors to monitor the composition of the atmosphere and the color of the l ocean, as well as a hyperspectral infrared sounder.

At one point, NOAA considered adding a satellite in a highly elliptical tundra orbit to gain persistent observation of the polar regions of its future constellation of geostationary satellites. While Arctic surveillance remains important for deciphering weather patterns and climate monitoring, NOAA is working with the Canadian Space Agency and European partners to determine the best approach for an Arctic observation mission.

“You can do this with a satellite in a very elliptical orbit slowly drifting over the poles so that you can watch or you can do it with a proliferation from low earth orbit,” Volz said. “Think of a constellation of 20 small rugs, which cover all the poles. You put them together and you have a pretty persistent imaging approach to the poles. “

Government agencies around the world are developing and launching small satellites for proliferating constellations in low earth orbit.

The US Space Force, ESA, Eumetsat and NASA are pioneers in efforts to compare the benefits of data collected by constellations of small satellites performing joint measurements with large satellites capable of observing wider bands. , said Volz.

Small satellite constellations “allow flexibility in instrumentation and in greater coverage than what we have with the old approach,” Volz said. “We are working with our partners to see what they are learning, but also potentially to use the same approach for our low Earth orbit satellites in the next generation.”

NOAA also seeks to benefit from the work of business partners. NESDIS may be able to benefit, for example, from the investment that SpaceX is making in its Starlink broadband constellation.

“We focus on instruments and measurements,” Volz said. By marrying NOAA’s instruments with constellations of commercial satellites, the agency could identify “a more efficient approach” to making observations in low earth orbit, he added.

During the webinar, Volz also discussed NOAA’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot, an initiative to identify and purchase promising data sets. NOAA awarded indefinite delivery contracts to GeoOptics and Spire Global in November. GeoOptics won a monitoring contract for data delivery.

“We are now integrating this data operationally into our services, alongside our own COSMIC-2 data and our partners are accessing radio occultation data in our models and in our data systems to improve our weather forecasting,” Volz said. . “We plan to continue this in the future. Both Spire and GeoOptics are under contract and we will be issuing additional delivery orders beyond the current one to purchase more data. “

At the same time, NOAA is looking for additional business data sets to support its mission.

“So far we have not identified any that are on par with the radio occupation several years ago, although we are continually working with the community to identify them,” Volz said.


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