The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) satellites have a very long and distinguished history. The U.S. meteorological programme started in 1960 with the launch of TIROS-1 (Television and Infrared Observation Satellite). The TIROS programme was the result of an international collaboration between the U.S., the United Kingdom and France.

In 1970, infrared sensors were added to the satellites payload, allowing image acquisition during both night and day. From then on the satellites were renamed NOAA.

As of 1978, NOAA satellites were equipped with the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), an instrument sensing in the visible, near infrared, mid-infrared and thermal infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

In 50 years, five generations of satellites followed one another: TIROS (10 satellites), ESSA (9 satellites), ITOS (8 satellites), TIROS-N (3 satellites) and ATN (Advanced TIROS-N, 13 satellites to date).

The POES (Polar Operational Environmental Satellite) programme includes the last 2 series. Five NOAA satellites are currently operational. The last one, NOAA-19, was launched in February 2009.

NOAA maintains at least two operational satellites in complemenatry orbits, with the even-numbered satellites crossing the equator in the early morning and early evening and the odd-numbered satellites crossing the equator in the afternoon and late evening. Together they provide twice-daily global coverage, and ensure that data for any region of the Earth are no more than six hours old.

NOAA satellites allow to monitor, on a global scale, snow and sea ice extents, water surface temperatures, or vertical profiles of atmospheric temperature and humidity.

Characteristics of NOAA-15 to NOAA-19
altitude: 807 - 870 km
inclination: 98.5° - 99°
orbit: Quasi polar, sunsynchronous
orbit period: 101-102 minutes
revisit time: 1 day

AVHRR/3 (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer)
The Scanning Radiometer AVHRR is characterized by a very wide field of view. Its swath is 2940 km and its spatial resolution is 1 km in the infrared and 0.5 km in the visible. Twice a day, the instrument provides images of the cloud cover over the entire world, and it also offers frequent images of the land and sea surfaces. The instrument is especially well-suited for studying vegetation on a world scale, e.g. for the study of seasonal changes. It also allows to monitor sea surface temperatures and the ice covering extent.

Band width Applications
1 (visible) 0,58 - 0,68 µm Clouds and land surfaces cartography (day)
2 (Near IR) 0,725 - 1,00 µm Clouds and land surfaces cartography (day)
3A (Near IR) 1,580 - 1,64 µm Snow and ice detection
3B (IR) 3,550 - 3,93 µm Clouds and sea surface temperature mapping (night)
4 (IR) 10,30 - 11,30 µm Clouds and sea surface temperature mapping (night)
5 (IR) 11,50 - 12,50 µm Sea surface temperature

AMSU-A1, -A2 en -B (Advanced Microwave Sounding Units)

AMSU-A possesses 15 channels in the microwave range and allows one to calculate vertical temperature profiles from the Earth's surface up to a pressure of around 3hPa (45 km), even in the presence of clouds. AMSU works in a complementary manner to HIRS, which has a better resolution than AMSU but is more affected by clouds.
AMSU-B has 5 channels and also measures moisture profiles.

HIRS/4 (High Resolution Infrared Radiation Sounder)
HIRS has 20 channels (1 visible: 0.69 µm, 7 short wavelength channels: 3.7 – 4.6 µm and 12 long wavelength channels: 6.7 - 15 µm). This instrument delivers high-resolution temperature profiles under cloudless conditions. These measurements are of great importance for meteorology and climatology.

SBUV/2 (The Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Spectral Radiometer)
From the measurements made with this instrument, one can derive atmospheric characteristics related to stratospheric ozone (the global and vertical distribution, the structure and dynamics thereof, etc.).

SEM-2 (Space Environment Monitor)
SEM-2 measures the flow of charged particles up at the satellite's altitude, and thus contributes to our understanding of the "sun-earth" system.

SAR (Search and Rescue Repeater and Processor Support)
The Search and Rescue system, sponsored by Canada, France, Russia and the USA, uses satellites and other means to receive emergency signals sent from ships, airplanes, land expeditions, and even from individuals having the right equipment.

Mission website

Data distributors:

U.S. Geological Survey

Great Lakes
Courtesy of Environment Canada


Courtesy of Tromsø Satellite Staion

Courtesy of NASA,
Goddard Space Flight Center