Quick Facts: Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT)

QuikSCAT spacecraft

QuikSCAT operated in a near polar orbit for more than 19 years and completed more than 14 orbits per day. (Courtesy NASA/JPL)

Mission Introduction

The QuikSCAT mission was an Earth-orbiting satellite intended to record sea-surface wind speed and direction data under all weather and cloud conditions over the oceans. QuikSCAT was initiated as a “quick recovery” mission to help reduce the ocean-wind vector data gap created by the loss of the NASA Scatterometer (NSCAT) on the Japanese Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS), which ceased functioning when ADEOS failed on June 30, 1997.

QuikSCAT operated in a near polar orbit. It operated in a circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 800 km (500 miles) above Earth’s surface. It completed a full orbit in about 101 minutes, which resulted in a little more than 14 orbits per day. The 19-year-old mission ended when the final command was sent to the satellite on on October 2, 2018. The satellite will spend the next ~90 years slowly deorbiting.

The instrument on the QuikSCAT satellite, SeaWinds, was an active radar scatterometer. This scatterometer operated by transmitting high-frequency microwave pulses to the ocean surface and measuring the echoed radar pulses bounced back to the satellite. The scatterometer estimated wind speed and direction over the Earth’s oceans at 10 m above the surface of the water. The instrument collected data over ocean, land, and ice in a continuous, 1,800-kilometer-wide band, making approximately 400,000 measurements and covering 90% of Earth’s surface in one day. QuikSCAT was capable of acquiring hundreds of times more observations of surface wind velocity each day than ships and buoys, and provided continuous, accurate and high-resolution measurements of both wind speeds and direction regardless of weather conditions. This data proved vital for global climate research, operational weather forecasting, and storm warning.

The SeaWinds scatterometer provided unprecedented, frequent surface wind speed and direction measurements over the global oceans. Coupled with other satellite measurements of cloud patterns, water vapor and rain, the data contributed to scientists’ ability to predict the intensity, location and movements of hurricanes and other severe marine weather patterns.

Science Objectives

  • Acquire all-weather, high-resolution measurements of near-surface winds over global oceans.
  • Determine atmospheric forcing, ocean response, and air-sea interaction mechanisms on various spatial and temporal scales.
  • Combine wind data with measurements from scientific instruments in other disciplines to help us better understand the mechanisms of global climate change and weather patterns.
  • Study both annual and semi-annual rain forest vegetation changes.
  • Study daily/seasonal sea ice edge movement and Arctic/Antarctic ice pack changes.

Operational Objectives

  • Improve weather forecasts near coastlines by using wind data in numerical weather- and wave-prediction models.
  • Improve storm warning and monitoring.

LASP Roles

LASP provided:

  • Mission operations for QuikSCAT

LASP Instruments

LASP did not provide any instruments for the QuikSCAT mission.

Quick Facts

Launch date: June 19, 1999
Launch location: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Launch vehicle: Titan II
Mission target: Earth orbit
Mission duration: 19+ years
Other key dates: Decommissioned on October 2, 2018
Other organizations involved:

  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
  • National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)
  • Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation
  • U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center
  • Honeywell Satellite Systems Operations
  • Raytheon E-Systems Corporation
  • Lockheed Martin Astronautics
  • Hughes Electron Dynamics Division