NOAA 2005-044
Contact: John Leslie

NOAA News Releases 2005
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Launch Kicks Off New Era of International Cooperation

A new NOAA polar-orbiting environmental satellite, set to launch next month, will be critical in the continued development of a global Earth observation program, while improving the agency’s weather and climate forecasts and U.S. search and rescue operations, top officials said today. The new spacecraft, NOAA-N, procured in cooperation with NASA, will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 11, 2005 at 3:22 a.m. (PDT).

“NOAA-N is key to achieving the goals of a strong Global Earth Observation System of Systems,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Because it will strengthen our understanding about what the environment around the world is doing, not just here in the U.S., NOAA-N will bring us one step closer to truly global coverage of Earth's complex processes.”

The launch of NOAA-N will also start a new era of international cooperation. Under an agreement between NOAA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), NOAA will provide NOAA-N and a later satellite, NOAA-N Prime, for an afternoon orbit of the globe, carrying a EUMETSAT instrument. In return, EUMETSAT will provide and launch three European-built satellites, called Metop, into morning orbits during the next 10 years, carrying key NOAA instruments. The first Metop launch is scheduled for April 2006.

When launched, NOAA-N will replace NOAA-16, in operation since September 2000, and join NOAA-17, launched in June 2002. Once in orbit, NOAA-N will be renamed NOAA-18. NOAA maintains a constellation of two primary polar-orbiting satellites at any time. The global data from these satellites are used extensively in NOAA’s weather and climate prediction numerical models.

As it orbits the globe, capturing valuable environmental data, NOAA-N will help drive NOAA’s long-range climate and seasonal outlooks, including forecasts for El Niño and La Niña.

“Data from NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellites are essential to the success of our weather and seasonal forecasts and El Niño and La Niña forecasts,” said Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s Centers for Environmental Prediction. “Since NOAA-N will be operational by late summer, it will help us to develop the outlook for the upcoming fall and winter.”

NOAA-N will also be vital in the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called COSPAS-SARSAT. Since SARSAT was established in 1982, NOAA polar-orbiting satellites – with their speedy detection and relay of distress signals from emergency beacons – have helped rescue nearly 5,000 people in the United States, and more than 18,000 worldwide.

Gregory W. Withee, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, added: “From monitoring the ash clouds of Mount St. Helens, to bolstering SARSAT, NOAA-N will be the next link – both national and global – in our continued success in meeting the growing demands for satellite coverage and data.”

NOAA-N continues the NOAA Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) series, with improved imaging and sounding capabilities that transmit environmental data around the world, enhancing weather and climate forecasts. This group of satellites will remain operational until NOAA’s next generation of polar spacecraft – National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), a joint program with NASA and the Department of Defense – launches in early 2010.

NOAA manages the POES program and establishes requirements, provides funding and distributes environmental satellite data for the United States. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., procures and manages the acquisition of POES for NOAA. Twenty-one days after it is launched, NASA will transfer operational control of NOAA-18 to NOAA. NASA's comprehensive on-orbit verification period is expected to last until approximately 45 days after launch.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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