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Weather Satellites: Critical Technology in an Uncertain Environment

Weather satellites are an essential component of U.S. weather monitoring and forecasting, generating billions of dollars in benefits for the nation every year. The next generation of weather satellites is currently being built, and both the polar-orbiting and geostationary programs are on track to meet their most recent estimated launch dates. However, a gap in some forecasting capabilities is very likely and it is critical that both programs receive full funding to ensure that any gaps are minimized.

This paper provides an overview of how U.S. weather satellite systems work and the benefits that they generate. It outlines the development history of the next generation of satellites, including some of the challenges that arose and the decisions that were made. The paper concludes with four recommendations that will help to ensure that the United States has the weather forecasting capabilities it needs, both for the near term and in the more distant future.