Status Report

Nation’s Newest Advanced Weather Satellite Launched

By SpaceRef Editor
September 21, 2000
Filed under

spacecraft, a Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite
(POES) satellite, was launched successfully this morning at 3:22 PDT
from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Lockheed Martin Space Systems
in Sunnyvale, Calif., built NOAA-L, and a Lockheed Martin-built Titan
II space launch vehicle, provided under contract to the U.S. Air Force
by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colo., carried the
satellite into orbit.

“This team has been totally dedicated to providing NASA and NOAA
with satellites to extend NOAA’s ability to forecast the weather,”
said Al Lauer, director of Low Earth Orbit Meteorological Programs for
Lockheed Martin Space Systems-Missiles & Space Operations in
Sunnyvale, Calif. “NOAA-L is the first POES spacecraft launched in the
fifth decade of this program, and the long-standing partnership with
our NASA and NOAA customers is a source of genuine pride for Lockheed

“We are very proud to be a part of this important program for
NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force,” said G. Thomas Marsh, president
and general manager of Lockheed Martin Space Systems-Astronautics
Operations, the company that builds the Titan II launch system.
“Today’s early morning liftoff marked the tenth consecutive successful
Titan II launch and, more importantly, another successful mission for
our customers.”

NOAA-L is the latest model in four generations of POES satellites.
All have been designed and built for the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) by Lockheed Martin heritage companies since the
first TIROS weather satellite launch in April 1960. Most of the
spacecraft in the series have operated far longer than originally
expected, earning them a reputation as the workhorse of the civil
space Earth-imaging inventory.

Operating as a pair, two POES satellites orbit the planet in
nearly north-south paths. As the Earth rotates, the entire globe, one
swath at a time, rolls into view of the satellites’ instruments. The
instruments continually sense the entire depth of the atmosphere and
report on the following weather generating factors:

  • Atmosphere Temperatures and Moisture Soundings
  • Sea-surface Temperatures
  • Land-surface Temperatures
  • Cloud Cover and Heights
  • Precipitable Moisture
  • Total Ozone
  • Clear Radiance
  • Incoming and Radiated Heat

Together these data comprise irreplaceable inputs to the numerical
weather forecast model and are vital to medium and long-range
forecasting. Separately or in combination, the data are utilized to
produce sea-surface temperature maps, ice condition charts, snow cover
analysis, vegetation maps and other forecasting and management tools.

Additionally, NOAA-L carries an enhanced complement of microwave
instruments for the generation of temperature, moisture, surface, and
hydrological products in cloudy regions where visible and infrared
instruments have decreased capability. NOAA-L also carries search and
rescue instruments that are used internationally for locating ships,
aircraft, and people in distress. The use of satellites in search and
rescue has been instrumental in saving more than 11,354 lives since
the inception of the Search and Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking
(SARSAT) system.

The NOAA-L satellite will operate in a circular, near-polar orbit
of 470 nautical miles above the Earth with an inclination angle of
98.744 degrees to the equator. Its orbital period, which is the time
it takes to complete one orbit of the Earth, will be approximately 102

The NOAA-L nominal orbit is Sun-synchronous and rotates eastward
about the Earth’s polar axis 0.986 degrees each day, approximately the
same rate and direction as the Earth’s average daily rotation about
the Sun. The rotation keeps the satellite in a constant position with
reference to the Sun for constant scene illumination throughout the

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is responsible
for the procurement, development, launch services, and verification
testing of the spacecraft, instruments, and unique ground equipment.
Following deployment of the spacecraft from the launch vehicle,
Goddard is responsible for the mission operation phase leading to
injection of the satellite into orbit and initial in-orbit satellite
checkout and evaluation.

Following the launch and a comprehensive on-orbit verification
period that lasts 45 days, NASA will turn operational control of the
satellites over to NOAA. NOAA will operate the satellites from the
Satellite Operations Control Center of the National Environmental
Satellite, Data, and Information Service in Suitland, Md., along with
the nation’s other environmental satellites that it operates.

NOAA’s environmental satellite system is composed of two types of
satellites: geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES)
for national, regional, short-range warning and “now-casting”; and
polar-orbiting environmental satellites (POES) for global, long-term
forecasting and environmental monitoring. Both GOES and POES are
necessary for providing a complete global weather monitoring system.
Both also carry search and rescue instruments to relay signals from
aviators and mariners in distress.

In addition, NOAA operates satellites in the Defense
Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), which are also polar-orbiting
satellites. NOAA also manages the processing and distribution of the
millions of bits of data and images the GOES and POES satellites
produce each day.

On May 5, 1994, President Clinton made the landmark decision to
merge the nation’s military and civil polar-orbiting operational
meteorological satellite systems into a single, national system
capable of satisfying both civil and national security requirements
for space-based remotely sensed environmental data. The new system is
called the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite
System, or NPOESS. Convergence of the civil and military programs is
the most significant change in U.S. operational remote sensing since
the launch of the first weather satellite.

The first converged satellite is expected to be available for
launch in the latter half of the decade, approximately 2009, depending
on when the remaining POES and DMSP program satellite assets are

Titan II intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) served as the
vanguard of our nation’s strategic deterrent for more than two
decades. In the late 1960s, 10 Titan IIs also successfully launched
astronauts as part of the Gemini program. When the Titan II ICBMs were
decommissioned, the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center,
Los Angeles, Calif., contracted with Lockheed Martin to refurbish 14
for use as space launch vehicles. Today’s launch was the tenth
consecutive successful launch of a Titan II space launch vehicle.

Astronautics and Missiles & Space are two of the operating units
of Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems business area. Astronautics
designs, develops, tests and manufactures a variety of advanced
technology systems for space and defense. Chief products include space
launch systems, planetary spacecraft and other space systems and
ground systems. Missiles & Space is a leading supplier of satellites
to military, civil government and commercial communications
organizations around the world. These spacecraft have enhanced
military and civilian communications; provided new, extensive and
timely weather data; studied the Earth and space; and furnished new
data for thousands of scientists studying our planet and the space
around it.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global
enterprise principally engaged in the research, design, development,
manufacture and integration of advanced-technology systems, products
and services. The Corporation’s core businesses are systems
integration, space, aeronautics, and technology services. Employing
more than 140,000 people worldwide, Lockheed Martin had 1999 sales
surpassing $25 billion.

For more information about Lockheed Martin Space Systems in
Sunnyvale and Denver, see our websites at and

Note to Editors: High and low resolution images of the NOAA-L can
be found at: and an
image of the Titan II launch can be found at:

SpaceRef staff editor.