Built with spare parts and without a moment to spare, the
Short for Rapid Scatterometer, ISS-RapidScat will monitor ocean winds from the vantage point of the space station (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html). It will join a handful of other satellite scatterometer missions that make essential measurements used to support weather and marine forecasting, including the tracking of storms and hurricanes. It will also help improve our understanding of how interactions between Earth's ocean and atmosphere influence our climate.
Scientists study ocean winds for a variety of reasons. Winds over the ocean are an important part of weather systems, and in severe storms such as hurricanes they can inflict major damage. Ocean storms drive coastal surges, which are a significant hazard for populations. At the same time, by driving warm surface ocean water away from the coast, ocean winds cause nutrient-rich deep water to well up, providing a major source of food for coastal fisheries. Changes in ocean wind also help us monitor large-scale changes in Earth's climate, such as
Scatterometers work by safely bouncing low-energy microwaves - the same kind used at high energy to warm up food in your kitchen - off the surface of Earth. In this case, the surface is not land, but the ocean. By measuring the strength and direction of the microwave echo, ISS-RapidScat will be able to determine how fast, and in what direction, ocean winds are blowing.
"Microwave energy emitted by a radar instrument is reflected back to the radar more strongly when the surface it illuminates is rougher," explains
ISS-RapidScat continues a legacy (http://winds.jpl.nasa.gov/) of measuring ocean winds from space that began in 1978 with the launch of
But when QuikScat lost its ability to produce ocean wind measurements in 2009, science suffered from the loss of the data. In the summer of 2012, an opportunity arose to fly a scatterometer instrument on the space station. ISS-RapidScat was the result (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/rapidscat.html).
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