Lockheed Martin IQ

Is your meteorologist a robot? Technology behind your weather forecast

Posted by Lisa Callahan on Jan 14, 2020 4:07:11 PM

There are people who check the weather every day. And then there are people who check the weather once or twice a season to see if a blizzard is coming or if they need to bring a jacket on family vacation.

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I’m the latter, which is a tad ironic since I oversee the team at Lockheed Martin Space who manufactures weather satellites. When my husband, the self-proclaimed weather geek, quotes meteorologists’ forecasts — most of which are made using inputs from our GOES-R satellites — it always puts a smile on my face.

While our GOES-R technology is used every day to create accurate weather forecasts around the world, Lockheed Martin’s weather story doesn’t start there. Our satellites and systems have been working to save lives and property for over 70 years.

Since our heritage company began building Radiosondes for the military in 1949, we’ve built six million of those and 107 weather satellites. These products have evolved from tracking weather to also tracking people in distress. The GOES-R satellites have a special Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) System to find lost explorers around the world at any time and in almost any condition. Last summer, these tracking devices helped save stranded boaters off the coast of the Cayman Islands, a pilot who crawled from a downed aircraft in the forests north of Chattanooga, and a crashed motorcyclist in the mountains of Montana.

Building life-saving weather forecasting technology

Our company’s weather footprint allows meteorologists to gather some other amazing, life-saving data, too.

For example, the U.S. Air Force’s WC-130 Hurricane Hunters aircraft — which are built by our Aeronautics team in Marietta, Georgia — fly crewmembers into the belly of the beast during storms to collect high-density, highly accurate weather data about the pressure, temperature, humidity and wind speed of hurricanes and tropical storms. This data is used to help forecasters and state agencies decide where the storm is headed and when to evacuate the people in its path.

Another example is our Mark IV-B software, which lets military meteorologists analyze different types of weather data from our partners around the world, including Canada’s, Japan’s, and the European Union’s weather agencies. These analyses can help warfighters make quick decisions about rerouting around fog or understanding exactly how thick and dangerous a volcanic ash cloud may be.

We also build WindTracer, a wind measurement tool that pulses laser beams to measure aircraft wakes for hundreds of thousands flights across the world and provides real-time warnings of hazardous winds.

Tracking weather in space and beyond

With all the advances we’ve made in weather technology, it’s hard to imagine where we go from here.

As we continue to grow our presence beyond Earth, we also need to understand the weather in space. Tracking space weather — like solar flares — helps protect our existing orbital fleet from space-based dangers.

New SmartSat™ tech will also allow satellite operators to adjust the satellite’s mission while it’s already in orbit. SmartSat isn’t a robot per se, but it takes advantage of multi-core processing (something new to space!) to let satellites process more data in orbit so they can beam down only the most critical and relevant information. This saves customers bandwidth costs and reduces the burden on ground station analysts, ultimately opening the door for tomorrow's data centers in space.

As winter weather sets in across the U.S. — weather geeks or not — we’ll all continue to rely on satellite data for our day-to-day decisions. Today’s data will continue saving lives and property — on our planet and perhaps someday, beyond.