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The NOAA Series

NOAA polar-orbiting satellites have collected data for most of the past 50 years, enabling scientists and researchers to accumulate a very extensive picture of climate change. A stunning library of climate data has been gathered to aid in environmental studies, such as climate change studies, vegetation monitoring, biomass burning, El Niño, pollution and sea ice tracking. Scientists need this long-term data if they are to reach a clearer understanding of the interactions among Earth's many systems. Polar-orbiting satellites provide both near and long-range weather forecasting information and data for global change research. Operating as a pair, two satellites ensure that data for any region of Earth is no more than six-hours old.

NOAA polar-orbiting satellites help to carry forth the United States' commitment to systematic, global weather observation and provide total global coverage four times a day. The mission supports growing international cooperation in space; the spacecraft instrument suite provides data supporting requirements of 140 nations, and several instruments are provided by foreign nations. All nations can access NOAA spacecraft data and for many, NOAA data is their sole weather forecasting reference. In addition to weather observations, the search and rescue component of the program makes major contributions toward international search and rescue operations.

NOAA manages the polar-orbiting satellites, establishes requirements, provides all funding and distributes environmental satellite data for the U.S. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD., procures and manages the development and launch of the satellites for NOAA on a cost-reimbursable basis.

The NOAA Missions

NNOAA 7 Launch, June 23, 1981 NOAA 7 Launch, June 23, 1981


(NOAA-A) was launched June 27, 1979 at 15:51:59 Z into a 450-nmi orbit. The HIRS, a primary mission sensor, failed September 19, 1983. The satellite greatly exceeded its two-year lifetime and was deactivated on March 31, 1987 after nearly eight years of operational service.


NOAA-B was launched May 29, 1980 at 10:53 Z and failed to achieve a usable orbit because of a booster engine anomaly.


(NOAA-C) was launched June 23, 1981 at 10:52:59 Z into a 470-nmi orbit. The HIRS, a primary mission sensor, failed February 7, 1985. The spacecraft was deactivated in June 1986 following failure of the power system.

Image Right : Photo of NOAA 7 Launch, June 23, 1981


(NOAA-E) was launched March 28, 1983 at 15:51:59.95 Z into a 450-nmi orbit. It was the first of the Advanced TIROS-N (ATN) satellites and included a stretched structure to provide growth capability; it also included the first Search and Rescue (SAR) package. The redundant crystal oscillator (RXO) failed after 14 months in orbit. The RXO recovered from its failure, finally locking up on the RXO backup in May 1985. The spacecraft was stabilized and declared operational by NOAA on July 1, 1985. The satellite was finally lost on December 29, 1985, following a thermal runaway which destroyed a battery.


(NOAA-F) was launched December 12, 1984 at 10:41:59.8 Z into a 470-nmi afternoon orbit. The MSU, a primary mission sensor, failed May 7, 1987. The Digital Tape Recorder (DTR) 1A/1B failed two months after launch. The Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) Scanner stopped outputting science data in January 1987. In August 1995, a very high power overvoltage condition resulted in the failure of the MIRP, the AVHRR, Battery #1 charge regulator, and Inertia Momentum Unit (IMU) temperature control amplifier. The MIRP failure also resulted in the loss of the global SAR data via Global Area Coverage (GAC) data stream. The satellite's capability to collect, process, and distribute SBUV/2, SSU, and ERBE-Nonscanner (NS) data was now limited to stored TIROS Information Processor (TIP) data. The SARR transmitter failed on December 18, 1987. The satellite was deactivated on February 13, 1998.


(NOAA-G) was launched September 17, 1986, at 15:52 Z into a 450-nmi morning orbit. In December 1994, the AVHRR IR channels were damaged and remain severely degraded from a satellite tumble caused by an overflow of the satellite's ephemeris clock. NOAA-10 was placed in standby on September 17, 1991 (the date NOAA-12 became fully operational). In January 1997, the MSU scanner displayed anomalous readings. The telemetry indicates that the digital encoder failed. The MSU scanner motor was commanded off in February 1997. A MIRP-related missing minor frame anomaly occurred in August 1998. The HRPT data became unusable due to an unstable MIRP and faulty AVHRR. The satellite was deactivated on August 30, 2001.


(NOAA-H) was launched September 24, 1988, at 10:02:00.385 Z into a 470-nmi afternoon orbit. In September 1994, the AVHRR scan motor failed, leaving the instrument inoperative. In October 1994 the Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Radiometer/2 (SBUV/2) diffuser failed, however, the instrument continued to collect global ozone data. The satellite was placed in standby mode in March 1995 and was reactivated to provide soundings after a NOAA-12 HIRS filter wheel anomaly in May 1997. The MSU science data was no longer usable, so the instrument was powered off in March 1999. NOAA-11 was decommissioned on June 16, 2004.

NOAA-12 satellite imagery NOAA-12 satellite imagery over the United States, 2006


(NOAA-D) was launched May 14, 1991 into a 450-nmi morning orbit at 15:52:035 Z. It replaced NOAA-G (10) in orbit, however, it does not have a SAR package on board. In May 1997 the HIRS filter wheel mechanism degraded to the poing that soundings were unusable. The remaining instruments and other subsystems continued to operate satisfactorily. NOAA-12 was placed in standby mode on December 14, 1998 when NOAA-15 became operational. Suffering from a severely degraded power system, the satellite was decommissioned on August 10, 2007.

Image Right : NOAA-12 satellite imagery over the United States, 2006


(NOAA-I) was launched on August 9, 1993, at 10:02Z into a 470-nmi afternoon orbit. On August 21, 1993, two weeks after launch, the spacecraft suffered a power system anomaly. All attempts to contact or command the spacecraft since the power failure have been unsuccessful.


(NOAA-J) was launched on December 30, 1994, into a 470-nmi afternoon orbit. In January 1995, it was determined that one of the four Solar Environmental Monitor (SEM) telescopes was inoperative, reducing data collected by 12%. Between April 1995 and December 1996 the SBUV grating drive experienced significant degradation. The grating drive control was reprogrammed to compensate for these problems as well as for the CCR failure. Following more than 13 years of service, and after evaluating the satellite health and ability to provide meaningful data to the scientific community, commands to complete decommissioning of the satellite were sent on May 23, 2007.


(NOAA-K) was launched on May 13, 1998 at 8:52 PDT from Vandenberg AFB. The spacecraft was injected in to a 450-nmi morning orbit and is currently the designated the AM secondary satellite. The AMSU-B and HIRS are not operational.


(NOAA-L) was launched on September 21, 2000 from Vandenberg AFB. NOAA-16 is currently the PM secondary satellite.


(NOAA-M) was launched on June 24, 2002 from Vandenberg AFB. The satellite is designated as the AM Backup and the AVHRR is not operational.

Image Right : Artist rendering of the NOAA-M Satellite


(NOAA-N) was launched on May 20, 2005 from Vandenberg AFB. NOAA-N is currently the PM secondary satellite. The HIRS instrument is not operational.

NOAA-N PrimeLaunchThe Delta II rocket carrying the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft thunders into the pre-dawn sky. Image credit: Carleton Bailie/United Launch Alliance


(NOAA-N Prime) the fifth and last in the current series of polar-orbiting satellites was launched on February 6, 2009 and is currently designated as the PM primary satellite. The satellite provides an essential resource for NOAA's long-range weather and climate forecasts and improve U.S. search and rescue operations. It was renamed NOAA-19 after achieving proper orbit. As it orbits Earth, NOAA-N Prime collects data about Earth's surface and atmosphere, which are vital inputs to NOAA's long-range Earth weather and climate outlooks, including forecasts for El Niño and La Niña.

NOAA-N Prime has imaging and sounding capabilities that are broadcast around the world and recorded on board for playback over the NOAA and European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellite ground stations. Space weather instruments provide data useful for warnings of solar winds that may impair communications, damage satellites and power systems, and affect astronaut safety.

NOAA-N Prime has instruments to support the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, or SARSAT, which is part of the international satellite system, including the Russian provided satellites called COSPAS. Since SARSAT was established in 1982, NOAA polar-orbiting satellites have been detecting emergency distress beacons sent by aviators, mariners and individuals in remote locations and relaying them to ground stations so that rescue teams may be dispatched. More than 28,000 lives have been saved through the satellite-based search and rescue system to date. NOAA-N Prime was the last satellite in this series of polar-orbiting satellites.

A new generation of polar orbiting satellites called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), will become operational after the POES complete their mission. [NOAA-N Prime Booklet (PDF)]

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