As you probably know, space exploration has brought us such fabulous advances as Tang and Velcro. And now, a weather technology called radio occultation (RO) that’s long been used to study Mars and Venus may help us better understand and predict Earth’s weather.
Radio occultation detects how radio waves bend around a planet’s atmosphere. The first experiments date back to 1965, as Mariner IV transmitted data during an approach to Mars. Since then, RO experiments have involved Venus, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Jupiter and the moons of several planets. But RO needed many signal sources in space to be of use on Earth, which wasn’t feasible until recently.
Now a Kentucky-based company called Climavision is bringing RO to our home planet. It recently received $100 million in private equity funding. Climavision is one of the few companies leveraging and operationalizing RO data generated by its partner GeoOptics. It plans to provide this data to organizations in the transportation, energy, media, government and insurance sectors.
So how does it work? A GPS satellite about 12,500 miles above a planet transmits a radio signal. The signal bends as it travels through the atmosphere. Another satellite — this one no more than 1,200 miles above the planet — receives the signal. The density of the atmosphere determines how much the signal bends. The receiving satellite calculates the signal’s angle, which is used to calculate temperature, humidity and pressure. If there are enough satellites in orbit, RO can provide global coverage, “seeing” through the storms and clouds that block other technologies.
According to Climavision, RO promises more accurate forecasts of both day-to-day weather and more extreme events, such as hurricanes and heavy rainfall. Better forecasting of hurricanes could save lives. RO gives more reliable space weather forecasts and will improve data collection over oceans. According to the company, “Power grids, aviation systems, communications and navigation satellites, and military operations are all susceptible to the effects of space weather.”
Lead image Pixabay