World’s first weather satellite launched 60 years ago

On 1 April 1960, NASA sent the Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS-1) into space. TIROS-1 was developed during the 1950s and, after years of experimental programmes and attempts, became the world’s first weather satellite. Since weather satellites were a new technology at that time, the mission also tested various design issues for spacecraft, such as instruments, data, and operational parameters, in order to improve satellite applications for Earth-bound decisions. TIROS-1 thus paved the way for further weather satellite development and research. Today, weather satellites provide highly accurate and near-real-time measurements that can efficiently monitor and forecast extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, as well as enhance the understanding of the climate and of the Earth as a whole.

TIROS-1 provided information about cloud formations around the globe. It orbited 450 miles above Earth and communicated with two command and data acquisition stations, which recorded the satellite’s images on 35-mm film for making prints. During its 78 days, TORIS-1 collected more than 19,000 usable pictures.

In 1970, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was established in recognition of the value and importance of a meteorological agency supported by space-based observation. NOAA uses space-borne technologies to provide daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, climate monitoring, and Earth observation images.

In 1974, the Synchronous Meteorological Satellite (SMS-1) became the first prototype geostationary satellite, an earth-orbiting satellite that orbits at the same rate as the Earth turns. One year later, the SMS series of satellites became the first operational Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) in orbit with the launch of GOES-1.

Since then, NASA has developed and launched a series of weather satellites that have greatly improved weather monitoring and forecasting. The most recent NASA ones are the GOES-17 and the ICON. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-S (GOES-17) was launched in March 2018 and provides highly accurate and near-real-time data to track storm systems, lightning, wildfires, coastal fog and other hazards that affect the Western Hemisphere, from the west coast of Africa to New Zealand, and from near the Arctic Circle to near the Antarctic Circle. 

The Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) was launched in October 2019. The mission studies the ionosphere, a dynamic zone high in the Earth’s atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather above. The ionosphere changes quickly due to Earth's seasons, the day's heating and cooling, and incoming bursts of radiation from the sun. It is important to study this area because radio communications and GPS signals travel through it; variations there can result in distortions or disruption of signals. 

To read more about TIROS-1, click here. For more information on NASA’s weather satellites, visit this page.