ISS-RapidScat Mission Delivers Unprecedented Ocean Wind Information
published during a waxing crescent moon.

The International Space Station has just concluded its Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidScat) Earth Science Mission, which began on September 21, 2014. RapidScat’s purpose was to obtain as much information as possible about ocean winds, harvesting data about the direction and speed of ocean winds, as well as monitoring them closely in real-time, which provides the first-ever data of how these winds change on a minute-by-minute basis.

ISS-RapidScat Mission

La Nina Wintertime Pattern illustration. Credit: PMEL/NOAA

Information about the patterns of ocean winds aids short-term forecasting, particularly with regards to marine weather and cyclones. A better understanding of the way ocean wind patterns work allows for more accurate predictions of storms that may not make landfall but might cause waves large enough to affect coastal communities and shipping routes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Navy, and weather agencies from Europe and India all use information acquired by ISS-RapidScat.

ISS-RapidScat Mission

Artist rendering of ISS-RapidScat instrument. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center

The data obtained by ISS-RapidScat also helps researchers identify and predict long-term weather cycles and contributes to a greater understanding of widespread weather patterns such as El Niño and La Niña, as it supplies an unprecedented amount of data about the behavior of ocean winds. It’s difficult to get data about the weather and winds that affect the ocean’s most far-flung areas, which RapidScat was able to do thanks to its location on the ISS.

ISS-RapidScat Mission

View of Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (SPDM), DEXTRE carrying the RapidScat instrument assembly. Credit: NASA

RapidScat’s predecessor, QuikScat, provided invaluable data for a decade. After QuikScat’s decommissioning, NASA engineers built ISS-RapidScat in under two years, saving both time and money by cannibalizing parts from QuikScat. RapidScat’s mission ended in August , after a power outage. During an attempt to turn it back on, an electrical overload shorted the system and further attempts to reactivate the unit failed. While NASA doesn’t have another unit in the works, the Indian Space Research Organization recently launched its own ScatSat to monitor ocean winds.