11 January 2005 Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) as an operational observation venue for NOAA's post GOES-R environmental satellites
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Today most operational Earth observing satellites reside in low Earth orbits (LEO) at less than 1,000 km altitude, and in geostationary Earth orbits (GEO) at ~35,800 km altitude. These orbits have been the venues of choice for observations, albeit for very different reasons. LEO provides high spatial resolution with low temporal resolution while GEO provides for low spatial resolution, but high temporal resolution. NOAA utilizes both venues for their environmental satellites. The NOAA Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) reside in LEO Sun synchronous orbits at approximately 830 km in altitude, as do the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites of the Department of Defense. In the near future the POES and DMSP satellites will be merged into a new satellite system referred to as the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system, as the name specifies, resides at the other preferred observational venue of GEO. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), under contract to NOAA, has been studying the characteristics of medium Earth orbits (MEO), at altitudes between 1000 and 35,800 km, as an observation venue to answer the question as to whether MEO might capture the attributes of the two traditional venues. This on-going study initially focused on determining the optimal altitude for MEO observations, through numerous trade studies involving altitude, instrument complexity, coverage, radiation environment, data temporality, revisit time, data rates, downlink requirements and other parameters including cost and launch complexity. Once the optimal altitude of 10,400 km had been determined the study proceeded to explore single through multiple MEO satellite constellation performance capabilities using two instrument types, a visible through infrared (IR) imager and IR sounder as the satellites’ payload. The MEO performance capabilities were compared to comparable LEO and GEO satellite constellation capabilities. This portion of the study concluded that indeed for global coverage a constellation of satellites operating in the MEO venue could capture the attributes of those operating in the LEO and GEO venues. Three 8-satellite constellations configurations - Walker, ICO, and Equatorial-Polar (EP) - then were studied to develop more constellation coverage statistics including robustness to individual satellite failure. That study phase concluded that the EP constellation was superior to both the ICO and Walker configurations. The study is presently examining if, and to what extent, the equatorial portion of the EP constellation might provide substantive supplemental data to that collected by the NPOESS and GOES satellite constellations.
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Andrew J. Gerber, David M. Tralli, Shyam N. Bajpai, "Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) as an operational observation venue for NOAA's post GOES-R environmental satellites", Proc. SPIE 5659, Enabling Sensor and Platform Technologies for Spaceborne Remote Sensing, (11 January 2005); doi: 10.1117/12.577705; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.577705


Satellite imaging

Meteorological satellites

Infrared imaging

Spatial resolution

Satellite communications

Temporal resolution


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