11:26am

Fri October 28, 2011
The Two-Way

NASA Launches 'Next Generation' Weather Satellite

Today, NASA launched into orbit what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling a "next generation" weather satellite that they say will fine-tune long-term weather forecasts.

The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang explains:

The NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite, roughly the size of mini-van, will orbit at an altitude of 512 miles above the Earth's surface. NPP will fly in a polar orbit, circling the earth from the north pole to the south pole 14 times each day.

The data it beams back to Earth, from five instruments, will help improve understanding of both global change and weather prediction.

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Data from polar-orbiting satellites is important for the accuracy of weather models, and NOAA claims such data were important to the accuracy of forecasts for major East Coast snowstorms in 2009 and 2010, including Snowmaggedon.

NOAA says the NPP satellite will help measure "cloud and vegetation cover, ocean color, and sea and land surface temperatures," as well as "distribution of moisture and heat in the atmosphere." The satellite will be especially important for weather forecasts three-days out.

"The bottom line is NPP is a big deal for America," Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA's Satellite and Information Service, said in statement. "We need the data from NPP to inform the public about what's coming down the pike and how to plan for it appropriately."

The Christian Science Monitor reports the SUV-sized satellite cost $1.5 billion and beyond helping meteorologists, it will also help scientists study climate change.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.