When you watch the news and see pictures of weather from around the United States or the world, you are seeing data from NOAA’s environmental satellites. NOAA’s environmental satellites provide data from space to monitor the Earth to analyze the coastal waters, relay life-saving emergency beacons, and track tropical storms and hurricanes.
NOAA operates two types of satellite systems for the United States - geostationary satellites and polar-orbiting satellites. Geostationary satellites constantly monitor the Western Hemisphere from around 22,240 miles above the Earth, and polar-orbiting satellites circle the Earth and provide global information from 540 miles above the Earth.
Satellites enable us to provide consistent, long-term observations, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They track fast breaking storms across “Tornado Alley” as well as tropical storms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Data from satellites are used to measure the temperature of the ocean, which is a key indicator of climate change. Satellite information is used to monitor coral reefs, harmful algal blooms, fires, and volcanic ash. Monitoring the Earth from space helps us understand how the Earth works and affects much of our daily lives. A listing of all satellite products is available on the website of NOAA's Satellite and Information Service.
NOAA's satellites provide other services beyond just imaging the Earth. Monitoring conditions in space and solar flares from the sun help us understand how conditions in space affect the Earth. Satellites also relay position information from emergency beacons to help save lives when people are in distress on boats, airplanes, or in remote areas. Scientists also use a data collection system on the satellites to relay data from transmitters on the ground to researchers in the field.
Historical data from our satellites, and other air-based and ground-based observation platforms, is archived for public use at NOAA’s world-class national data centers.
In addition to operating our own satellites, NOAA helps promote and enable commercial uses of satellites and space to benefit the U.S. economy. NOAA provides a voice for the U.S. commercial space industry within government decision making processes. NOAA issues licenses for the operation of commercial imaging satellites. NOAA also plays a key part in the national management of the Global Positioning System, a satellite technology that has become vital to the U.S. economic infrastructure.