Press Release

NASA’s Quikscat Spacecraft Turns Operational

By SpaceRef Editor
February 22, 2002
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In a move to improve global weather forecasts and
ultimately save lives and property, the United States and
Europe have incorporated wind speed and direction data from
NASA’s Quick Scatterometer spacecraft — also known as
Quikscat — into their operational global weather analysis
and forecast systems.

Armed with data from Quikscat, forecasters can now predict
hazardous weather events over the oceans as much as six to 12
hours earlier. Launched June 19, 1999, the Quikscat
spacecraft operates in a Sun-synchronous, 80-kilometer (497-
mile) near-polar orbit, circling Earth every 100 minutes,
taking approximately 400,000 measurements over 93 percent of
Earth’s surface every day.

In recent years data from the Quikscat scatterometer,
developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL),
Pasadena, Calif., have proven useful in improving forecasts
of extreme wind events, such as hurricanes, and in monitoring
longer-term climatic effects such as El Nino. Quikscat’s
SeaWinds scatterometer instrument is a specialized microwave
radar that continuously measures both the speed and direction
of winds near the ocean surface in all weather conditions.

Participants in the Quikscat program include the National
Centers for Environmental Prediction, a branch of the
National Weather Service, Washington, and the European Centre
for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Reading, England. These
organizations’ decision to assimilate and turn Quikscat data
into operational information culminates an intense inter-
agency and international cooperative effort among NASA, the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA) and
European countries to demonstrate and validate Quikscat’s
potential impact on weather forecasting.

“Our implementation of Quikscat data has provided another
useful data source for improved surface wind forecasts,” said
Stephen Lord, director of the National Centers for
Environmental Prediction’s Environmental Modeling Center,
which developed the Quikscat data-processing in collaboration
with NASA and NOAA Satellite Services.

“The use of Quikscat data to improve weather forecasts
underscores the value of the mission beyond the scientific
research community,” said Dr. Michael Freilich, Quikscat
principal investigator and a professor at Oregon State
University, Corvallis. “Realizing the full potential of
Quikscat data is possible only because of a series of unique
collaborations. NASA researchers and engineers worked
together to develop and calibrate the instrument and
algorithms. NOAA personnel, in partnership with NASA, enable
rapid delivery of near-real-time spacecraft data to forecast
centers. There also are the teams of meteorologists who are
developing and refining computer programs that incorporate
the data into models and display measurements for

Helen Wood, director of NOAA’s Office of Satellite Data
Processing and Distribution, said Quikscat data would
positively impact NOAA’s weather forecasting and storm
warnings. “Quikscat data will help our forecasters more
accurately determine the paths and intensities of severe
winter storms, tropical storms and hurricanes, which will
save lives and property,” she said. “The data are also used
by climate change researchers and commercial shipping

The incorporation of Quikscat data was one of several recent
upgrades made to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather
Forecasts’ operational system. Cumulatively, the upgrades
have resulted in a robust improvement in forecasts of
atmospheric conditions over the Southern Hemisphere and in
the upper atmosphere. Their ability to forecast tropical
cyclone tracks has also been enhanced.

JPL manages Quikscat for NASA’s Office of Earth Science,
Washington. JPL also built the scatterometer instrument and
provides ground science-processing systems. NASA’s Goddard
Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., managed development of
the satellite, designed and built by Ball Aerospace &
Technology Corp., Boulder, Colo.

NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is a long-term research and
technology program to examine Earth’s land, oceans,
atmosphere, ice and life as a total integrated system. JPL is
a division of the California Institute of Technology in

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SpaceRef staff editor.