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Satellite Launch Brings Data to Alaska

Nov 16, 2022 | Arctic, News, Science, Telecom & Tech

An Atlas V rocket

An Atlas V rocket carrying the Joint Polar Satellite System civilian polar-orbiting weather satellite for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration lifts off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on November 10, 2022.

United Launch Alliance

The launch of an environmental satellite from California will bring timely data about the weather, sea ice, wildfires, and much more to Alaska.

Joint Polar Satellite System

Data from the JPSS-2 satellite is collected at the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA) at the UAF Geophysical Institute. GINA turns the data into products that monitor wildfire, sea ice, and weather.

“For us, it just means we get to keep having this incredible data,” says GINA Director Jennifer Delamere.

The JPSS-2 satellite joins two other polar-orbiting satellites in the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service. The satellite is part of the Joint Polar Satellite System, which is a collaboration of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Suomi NPP satellite, launched in October 2011, is the oldest. The other satellite is NOAA-20, which launched in November 2017.

JPSS-2, which will be renamed NOAA-21, is expected to operate for seven years.

Having two satellites with staggered lifespans ensures redundancy in case one satellite fails. The satellites all carry the same instruments, so the type of data retrieved is consistent.

The Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF) played a crucial role in tracking JPSS-2 not long after the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base, helping NASA model its orbit.

“When a satellite is launched, it takes some time for the orbit to get settled,” says Devan Larson, one of the satellite facility’s ground station engineers. “The satellite will have to make additional maneuvers and adjustments.”

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“It is very important to have accurate tracking data early on to aid in moving the spacecraft to its final orbit,” he adds.

Working Together

JPSS-2 satellite

Technicians lift the JPSS-2 satellite to a stand inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Steven Gerl | US Space Force

Each JPSS satellite makes one polar orbit of Earth every 100 minutes.

Alaska’s high latitude means ground stations in the state can communicate with polar-orbiting satellites more often than stations at lower latitudes can. Each satellite passes over Alaska eight to fourteen times a day, improving the timeliness of the products GINA produces.

UAF Vice Chancellor for Research Nettie La Belle-Hamer noted the work of the two Geophysical Institute units.

“This is a fantastic example of how ASF and GINA are working together for the betterment of not just the Geophysical Institute but for UAF and all of Alaska,” she says.

Other launches for the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service are set for 2028 and 2032.

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