On this anniversary, the mission's team is preparing to calibrate ISS-RapidScat, the successor that will maintain QuikScat's unbroken data record. After its launch in a few months, RapidScat will watch ocean winds from the
Much like QuikScat, ISS-RapidScat was built in less than two years and at a fraction of its predecessor's budget. Both missions are testaments to ingenuity, craftsmanship and speedy construction in the name of improving our understanding of Earth's winds.
"Both ISS-RapidScat and QuikScat came about to react quickly to the failure of another spaceborne instrument," said
Scatterometers help scientists estimate the speed and direction of winds at the ocean's surface by sending microwave pulses to Earth's surface. Strong waves or ripples scatter the microwaves, sending some of them back toward the scatterometer. Based on the strength of this backscatter, scientists can estimate the strength and direction of the wind at the ocean's surface.
Scatterometer data are critical for observing global weather patterns. They also help ocean fishermen decide where to fish, ship captains choose shipping lanes and researchers track hurricanes, cyclones and
"The usefulness of this wind measurement is enormous," said JPL's
But the spacecraft carrying NSCAT malfunctioned in 1997. Immediately, a team of JPL scientists and engineers raced to get a scatterometer satellite back into space.
"We had the idea that a partially developed spacecraft bus could be mated with an advanced version of the instrument that was already under development, and we could get something up quickly. So we went to
In that year,
The SeaWinds instrument on QuikScat used a rotating antenna to measure a swath of Earth's surface 1,118 miles (1,800 kilometers) wide -- about the distance from
But by the end of 2009, long after the expected end of QuikScat's mission, the lubricant coating the antenna's bearings dried up. Instead of tracing a round swath on Earth's surface, it pointed straight down and only watched the waves directly below it. Still, those data were sufficient to help calibrate newer satellites.
"Since 2009, we've been able to keep QuikScat operating quite successfully," said
QuikScat's final task will be to calibrate its successor, RapidScat. The satellite will continue collecting data until
RapidScat, like QuikScat, was built in a fraction of the timeline for most missions. The two missions even share hardware: JPL engineers used SeaWinds test parts to build much of RapidScat, which also uses a rotating dish antenna.
RapidScat will launch aboard a SpaceX Dragon resupply mission this summer. Flying in the space station's orbit means RapidScat will spend more time observing Earth's tropics than previous scatterometer satellites, which orbited farther north and south.
"RapidScat will be able to, for the first time, map the evolution of winds as the day progresses, which is important for understanding how clouds and precipitation develop, especially in the tropics, which are key regions in Earth's climate system," Rodriguez said. "It will provide a common reference to tie all of these measurements together."
Together with scatterometers managed by
For more information about ISS-RapidScat, visit:
For more information about QuikScat, visit:
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