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Program: Tiros

Television and Infra Red Observation Satellite

American meteorological program

In 1960, Tiros 1, the first true weather satellite, was launched. With each succeeding generation of satellites, remote sensing instruments became increasingly sophisticated and today's high quality pictures are a far cry from the first tentative trials.

TIROS was a simple hatbox-shaped craft carrying special television cameras that viewed Earth's cloud cover from a 450 mile orbit. The pictures radioed back to Earth provided meteorologists with a new tool - a nephanalysis, or cloud chart.

By 1965, nine more TIROS satellites were launched. They had progressively longer operational times, carried infrared radiometers to study Earth's heat distribution, and several were placed in polar orbits to increase picture coverage over the first TIROS in its near-equatorial orbit.

TIROS 8 had the first Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) equipment that allowed pictures to be sent back right after they were taken instead of having to be stored for later transmission. Eventually, APT pictures could be received on fairly simple ground stations anywhere in the world, even in high school classrooms.

TIROS 9 and 10 were test satellites of improved configurations for the Tiros Operational Satellite (TOS) system. Operational use started in 1966. In orbit, the TOS satellites were called ESSA. TOS satellites were placed in Sun-synchronous orbits, so they passed over the same position on Earth's surface at exactly the same time each day; this allowed meteorologists to view local cloud changes on a 24-hour basis.

Several ITOS (for Improved TOS satellites) have been launched since 1970 and are the workhorses of the meteorologists. In orbit they are called NOAA for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration which is responsible for their operation.

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