About environmental satellites

Geostationary satellites

Geostationary satellites, such as Himawari-8, orbit the Earth over the equator at a height of approximately 35 800 km. They complete one orbit every 24 hours, in sync with the Earth's rotation about its own axis. This ensures that geostationary satellites remain over the same location above the equator, allowing frequent imaging of a given region of Earth's surface and atmosphere. A number of geostationary satellites are positioned around the globe for continuous coverage.

Imaging capabilities of geostationary satellites vary based on model and age. Baseline capabilities include imaging in the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum, commonly at a resolution of 1 km and 4 km (respectively), but Japan’s Advanced Himawari Imager records visible images at 0.5–2 km resolution. Due to the nature of its orbit, a geostationary satellite is capable of scanning the Earth to 70° of latitude or longitude in each direction from the sub-satellite point (the point on the equator directly below the satellite).

Polar orbiting satellites

Polar orbiting satellites pass over the Earth’s poles at a height of approximately 700–850 km. Each satellite follows a nearly fixed orbit while the Earth rotates beneath. Additionally, polar orbiting satellites tend to be placed in a sun-synchronous orbit, which means that the satellite flies over any given location on Earth at a set local time.

The areas scanned by each pass (swath) are nearly adjacent at the equator on consecutive passes. Further pole-wards the passes progressively overlap. Imaging sensors carried on-board these satellites generally have a swath width of about 2600 km, and by completing 14 orbits per day one satellite can provide an almost complete coverage of the globe twice a day. The instrument on the satellite points continuously at the Earth, and images are built up by a mirror on the satellite scanning from side to side at right angles to the orbital path.

One of the main benefits of polar orbiting satellites is that, due to their low-Earth orbit, the cost of their payload is more affordable than that of geostationary satellites. Hence polar orbiting satellites tend to have a wider variety of equipment on board. Their other benefit is that they deliver frequent coverage of polar regions—areas not visible from geostationary satellites.

Data reception

With access to Japanese, American, Chinese and European meteorological satellites, Australia is well served by regular imagery to support operations and research of national weather services like the Bureau of Meteorology. China, Europe, Japan, and the USA are to be congratulated on their contributions to global free exchange of meteorological data. In particular, Himawari-8 represents a significant contribution by Japan to the space-based observations part of the World Meteorological Organization's Global Observing System, with data made freely available for common good.

In order to access this meteorological data the Bureau of Meteorology has high bandwidth internet, as well as satellite data reception sites at Melbourne, Darwin and Perth, as well as Casey and Davis stations in Antarctica. Himawari-8 data also reach the Bureau via a dedicated fibre-optic line from Japan, and a cloud-based internet service. Together, the internet and ground stations provide national coverage of imagery and processed products such as solar radiation, sea surface temperatures, vegetation indices, grassland curing, atmospheric motion vectors, volcanic ash, and atmospheric profiles of temperature and relative humidity. These products support the Bureau's analysis and forecasting service, and also provide data for more detailed studies of climate and climate related disciplines. While all five ground stations are operated by the Bureau, the Perth station is owned by the Western Australian Satellite Technology and Applications Consortium (WASTAC), which comprises:

Each reception site consists of one or more satellite antennas that receive data either in L-band or X-band region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The signals are processed by computers on site and the ingested satellite data is distributed to locations around Australia, as well as to partners worldwide.

Himawari-8 and -9

Himawari-8 and its sister satellite, Himawari-9, are the successors to JMA’s Multi-functional Transport Satellites (MTSAT). Their ‘Advanced Himawari Imager’ instruments offer significant improvements over MTSAT in terms of the frequency, resolution and precision of images.

Himawari-8 observations form the core of the Bureau's satellite data intake.

Multi-functional Transport Satellites (MTSAT)

Multi-functional Transport Satellites (MTSAT) is a series of geostationary weather satellites operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). The MTSAT series carry an aeronautical mission to assist air navigation, plus a meteorological mission to provide imagery over the Asia-Pacific region. The satellites also have the capability to relay weather data from remote Automatic Weather Stations.

MTSAT2 is being phased out of service.

NOAA Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite (POES) Series

Sample image from a polar orbiting NOAA satellite showing the eastern seaboard of Australia.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a long-running series of polar orbiting environmental satellites. One of the instruments on POES platforms is the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) which measures the reflectance of the Earth in five spectral bands. High Resolution Picture Transmission (HRPT) data is transmitted continuously and can be picked up at reception sites within range of the satellite. Reduced resolution Global Area Coverage (GAC) data is stored for later transition to NOAA ground stations.

At each Bureau receiving station NOAA HRPT data is archived in real time using the Australian Standard Data Archive (ASDA) format (developed by Bureau and CSIRO) and is also split into its components for processing.

Aqua and Terra

AQUA Sample

Aqua and Terra are polar orbiting Earth observation satellites flown by NASA as part of a multi-agency programme called the Earth Observing System (EOS). Terra, flagship of the EOS, provides coverage during the local morning, while Aqua images are available early afternoon local time.

Both satellites carry the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) which can capture 36 spectral bands at varying spatial resolutions (250m, 500m and 1000m). Aqua carries an Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) that measures the infrared signal emitted by the Earth's atmosphere and surface in 2378 channels. This signal can be used to estimate temperature and water vapour content throughout the atmosphere.

Feng Yun Polar Orbiting Satellites

FY-1D Sample

China has launched a number of polar orbiting satellites. These include the original FY-1 series, as well as the more recent FY-3 series. The FY-3 series is an improved generation of polar orbiting satellites with an imaging resolution of 250 m.

Feng Yun Geostationary Satellites

FY-2 Sample

China also has a strong geostationary satellite presence. The current arrangement is to have two active geostationary satellites, FY2-EAST (located at 105° E) and FY2-WEST (located at 86.5° E). The roles of FY2-EAST and FY2-WEST are currently filled by FY-2G and FY-2E, respectively, members of the original FY-2 series of geostationary satellites. These satellites monitor temperature and clouds above China and neighbouring areas and are able to provide meteorological information for the Asia-Pacific region.

The next generation of Chinese geostationary weather satellites is known as FY-4.

Meteosat and GOES Data

GOES Sample

Through co-operation with international agencies, the Bureau receives data from satellites which cannot be ingested directly due to their location. These include the European Meteosat and the US Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GEOS). The Bureau accesses real-time, low resolution Meteosat imagery from the European Organisation for Exploitation of Satellites (Eumetsat) for internal use only.

GOES-East and GOES-West imagery is accessed by mutual agreement with the Space Science and Engineering Centre (SSEC). The data is received electronically every three hours.