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Orbiting Earth from Pole to Pole

By Linda Hermans-Killam

Did you know that when you check the weather on your phone or watch your local weather forecaster on TV, you’re actually looking at information from a faraway satellite?

In 2017, a new satellite will be launched that will give us a better understanding of Earth's climate and environment. It is part of a mission called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). JPSS is a collaboration between NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

JPSS actually includes five satellites which will be placed in polar orbits around Earth. These satellites will use the latest advanced instruments to observe our Earth. The JPSS satellites will also collect information about Earth’s weather, the oceans, and our atmosphere.

When a satellite orbits over the North and South Poles, we say it's in a polar orbit. As the satellite orbits the Earth from pole to pole, the Earth spins below. This allows the satellite to view different parts of the Earth. The polar orbits of the JPSS satellites will let them observe the entire earth twice each day.

The five JPSS satellites will be launched at different times. The first one, called Suomi-NPP, was launched in 2011. It is about the size of a mini-van, and it orbits Earth about fourteen times each day. It will soon be joined by JPSS-1 in 2017. JPSS-2, JPSS-3, and JPSS-4 are planned to launch in 2021, 2026, and 2031. That way, when one stops working, we have another one ready to take over and get data!

The JPSS satellites will measure land and sea surface temperatures. They will also monitor storms, sea and land ice, cloud cover, rainfall, snow, ozone, and water vapor. The satellites will also observe the health of vegetation and they can even monitor ship traffic!

JPSS will increase the accuracy of weather forecasting. This will help people better prepare for severe weather. These satellites will also monitor fires, droughts, floods, and volcanic eruptions. Data from JPSS will give us information which will help protect people’s lives and property.

JPSS will continue to provide these important observations of Earth through 2038, giving us a better understanding of our planet.

Visit the NASA Space Place to learn more about polar orbits, as well as geostationary orbits: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/geo-orbits/


An illustration of JPSS-1 in orbit. The satellite is scheduled to launch in 2017.
Image credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

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