Thursday, June 16, 2011

NOAAPORT satellite system undergoing major upgrade

Since 1998, when it first became operational, one of the primary methods of receiving weather data directly from the National Weather Service has been the NOAAPORT satellite system.  From NOAA (the parent organization of the National Weather Service), "the NOAAPORT broadcast system provides a one-way broadcast communication of NOAA environmental data and information in near-real time to NOAA and external users."

As shown below, NOAAPORT basically consists of a satellite receive system in which multiple data types which originate at the NWS are uplinked to a satellite, then downlinked back to a properly-equipped ground station (satellite dish) for processing by the customer.  Types of data that are transmitted on NOAAPORT include text data, such as forecasts, watches and warnings, satellite imagery, radar data, and computer model data.

In 2005, the NWS completed a switchover to a scalable circuit technology called Digital Video Broadcast-Satellite (DVB-S), which allowed information to travel at up to 10 megabits-per-second (Mbps).  In the past 5 years, the amount of weather information that is being sent over the NOAAPORT signal has increased such that the current "pipe" of 10Mbps is no longer large enough to support new data types that are ready to be distributed on NOAAPORT.  Thus, on Friday (June 17, 2011) at 7pm CDT, the NWS will switch off the current DVB-S feed and will begin using a new DVB-S2 feed, which allows data to flow at 3 times the rate (30Mbps) of the current feed.

What will be the end result?  The larger feed will allow new weather technologies like enhanced model data, next generation satellites that are coming online, and an ever-increasing amount of radar data (including the newest dual polarization products now in test) to be distributed to customers and vendors.  This means that these weather vendors will then have access to the latest weather technology, which they can then pass on to the public!

Typical NOAAPORT satellite dish - photo courtesy Danny Lloyd
The cool part of all of this is that, aside from upfront costs to install the satellite receive systems and get computer processors in place to ingest and analyze the data as it arrives, the NWS broadcasts all of this information for free.  Anyone with a NOAAPORT receive system and the proper software can have access to it at no cost.  (The upfront costs and maintenance for the computer hardware and software are high, but the data itself is free.)

So, be watching in the next several months to years for new weather information to become available, much of it thanks to the upgrade of the National Weather Service's primary data distribution system - NOAAPORT.

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