Ocean Winds To Be Monitored From The International Space Station
January 30, 2013

ISS Instrument Will Monitor Ocean Surface Wind Speed And Direction

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

NASA will launch the ISS-RapidScat instrument to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014. Reusing hardware built to test parts of the QuikScat satellite, the new instrument will measure ocean-surface wind speed and direction.

ISS-RapidScat will help improve weather forecasts here on Earth, including hurricane monitoring, and will further scientific understanding of how ocean-atmosphere interactions influence Earth's climate.

"The ability for NASA to quickly reuse this hardware and launch it to the space station is a great example of a low-cost approach that will have high benefits to science and life here on Earth," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's International Space Station program manager, in a recent press statement.

QuikScat - designed to last for two years but operated for ten - stopped collecting ocean wind data in late 2009. ISS-RapidScat will help to fill the data gap left by this failure. A scatterometer — like QuikScat or RapidScat — is a microwave radar sensor used to measure the reflection, or scattering effect, produced while scanning the surface of the planet from an aircraft or satellite.

Though NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been studying next-generation replacements for QuikScat, a successor will not be available soon. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA's station program proposed adapting the remaining QuikScat hardware, combined with new hardware designed for use on the space station, as a cost-effective answer to the problem.

"ISS-RapidScat represents a low-cost approach to acquiring valuable wind vector data for improving global monitoring of hurricanes and other high-intensity storms," said Howard Eisen, ISS-RapidScat project manager at JPL. "By leveraging the capabilities of the International Space Station and recycling leftover hardware, we will acquire good science data at a fraction of the investment needed to launch a new satellite."

With measurement accuracy similar to the QuikScat satellite, ISS-RapidScat will survey all regions of Earth accessible from the station's orbit. The instrument will be carried to the ISS on board a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft, and will be installed on the end of the Columbus laboratory. ISS-RapidScat will be an autonomous payload requiring no interaction by station crew members. It is expected to operate aboard the station for two years.

Taking advantage of the space station's unique characteristics, ISS-RapidScat will advance understanding of Earth's winds. Current scatterometer orbits pass the same point on Earth at approximately the same time every day, and the space station's orbit intersects each of these orbits about once every hour. ISS-RapidScat, therefore, can be used as a calibration standard, which will help scientists stitch together the data from multiple sources into a long term record.

Measurements of the global wind field at all times of day for all locations will also be collected. Sun-caused variations in winds can play a significant role in the formation of tropical clouds and systems that play a dominant role in the planet's water and energy cycles. The observations from ISS-RapidScat will help scientists better understand these phenomena to improve weather and climate models.

ISS-RapidScat is a joint partnership of the ISS Program Office and JPL.