NASA: Measuring Ocean-Surface Winds from Space

The International Space Station (ISS) over Miami, Florida, USA
Credits: NASA

In a clever reuse of hardware originally built to test parts of NASA's QuikScat satellite, the agency will launch the ISS-RapidScat instrument to the International Space Station in 2014 to measure ocean-surface wind speed and direction.

The ISS-RapidScat instrument will help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring, and 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.

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

ISS-RapidScat also will collect measurements of Earth's global wind field at all times of day for all locations. Variations in winds caused by the sun can play a significant role in the formation of tropical clouds and tropical systems that play a dominant role in Earth's water and energy cycles. ISS-RapidScat observations will help scientists understand these phenomena better and improve weather and climate models.