Weather Forecasting Game Changers

Two instruments launching to the International Space Station in a few weeks could be weather forecasting game changers. The two novel instruments are expected to demonstrate that, while they are much smaller, much lighter and much less expensive than weather satellites orbiting today, they can collect some of the same essential data.

The main purpose of the Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer (COWVR) instrument is to measure the direction and speed of winds at the ocean surface. The Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems (TEMPEST) looks at atmospheric humidity.

Designed and built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the two instruments are technology demonstrations. NASA will archive the data and make it available to all interested users, but the main purpose of the mission is to prove the instruments can operate in space and supply data for weather forecasts. Together, they’re part of a U.S. Space Force mission called Space Test Program-Houston 8 (STP-H8), expected to launch to the space station on Dec. 21.

Almost a decade in the making, COWVR grew from the space-based weather forecasting and environmental observation programs of U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD). The military collects data to forecast ocean surface winds with a space borne instrument named WindSat, launched in 2003.