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the first weather satellite

Launched aboard a Thor-Able launch vehicle on April 1, 1960, TIROS-1 (Television and InfraRed Observation Satellite) was NASA's first test of the feasibility of using satellites to monitor and predict weather patterns. There were several participating agencies in the test, including NASA, the U.S. Army Signal Research and Development Lab, the U.S. Weather Bureau, RCA, and the U.S. Naval Photographic Interpretation Center.

Tiros-1 was 42 inches in diameter, 19 inches high, and weighed 270 pounds. It was made of aluminum alloy and stainless steel and covered with 9,200 solar cells. It carried two television cameras, one with a wide-angle lens that could "see" about 800 square miles from an altitude of 450 miles, the other with a narrow-angle lens that had a resolution of about 1-1/2 miles. The cameras could take a picture every ten seconds. Each camera was linked to a magnetic tape recorder capable of storing up to 32 photographs while the satellite was out of range of the ground station network. The antennas consisted of four rods from the base plate to serve as transmitters and one vertical rod from the center of the top plate to serve as a receiver. The craft was spin-stabilized and space-oriented (not Earth-oriented). Therefore, the cameras were only operated while they were pointing at the Earth, and only when that portion of the Earth was in sunlight. Primary receiving stations were located at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and Kaena Point, Hawaii, with stand-by stations at Princeton, New Jersey, and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

diagram of Tiros-1 instruments inside Tiros-1

Tiros-1 transmitted its first photographs soon after achieving orbit. Once received at a ground station, the satellite data was recorded on 35-mm film for making prints and large projections. From these, a hand-drawn cloud analysis was made and transmitted to the U.S. Weather Bureau Meteorological Center near Washington, D.C. Early photographs provided information concerning the structure of large-scale cloud regimes.

first picture transmitted by Tiros-1

An electrical failure ended Tiros-1's mission on June 23, by which date it had sent back 19,389 photographs that proved valuable in observing and monitoring weather patterns. Despite its short life, Tiros-1 proved that satellites could be used to improve the science of weather forecasting. The second Tiros satellite was launched on November 23, 1960, and TIROS satellites began continuous coverage of the Earth's weather in 1962. The program's success with many instrument types and orbital configurations lead to the development of more sophisticated meteorological observation satellites.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Physics >> Meteorology

This page was last updated on 02/22/2017.