But AHI stands out beyond its arsenal of visible and infrared displays. The current class of geosynchronous satellites only take images of the entire Earth, delivered every 30 minutes. But AHI captures the full disk every ten minutes. With time to spare. That he goes on to collect a close-up of Japan (delivered every five minutes) and an even closer shot of some land features2 (every 30 seconds).
The imager collects its images in bands, horizontal or vertical scans which it assembles. It takes 22 swaths to collect all of the Earth, but this process can be interrupted to gather close-ups of grains and landmasses. “It takes four strips to cover Japan, two to collect a typhoon,” says Paul Griffith, Harris’ chief engineer. Griffith has designed an intelligent swipe system that allows the camera to quickly switch between tasks. This is how she is able to jump from a section of the entire earth sweep for close 30 second earth sweeps. “A useful analogy is a playlist on an mp3 player,” says Griffith. “Think of each tape as a track and each image as an album. The timeline is your playlist.” Speaking of music, Griffith says Taylor Swift 1989 helped him through many difficult nights designing the AHI. Just kidding, T-Swift was about 12 at the time.
The Advanced Himawari Imager is a modified version of a camera commissioned by NOAA for its next generation of weather satellites, the GOES-R series. “I started working on the Advanced Baseline Imager [that’s what NOAA calls the AHI – ed.] in the late 1990s,” says Tim Schmit, a NOAA meteorologist based at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at the University of Madison, Wisconsin. So wait, if the Japanese wünder sensor is designed and manufactured in the United States, why isn’t there an American Advanced Baseline Imager in American space, monitoring American soil?
“It’s just that the Japanese were a little quicker to get it on the satellite,” said Webster, vice president of Harris. Sigh. What does it mean? “I think Japan had a tighter need date because they had a failure for their MTSAT-1which left them without weather satellite imagery,” says Schmit.
Alright, but when is the US version launching? “The original launch date was March 2016,” says Schmit. Been? What do you mean been? “That launch date was dropped. Basically, NOAA had looked at some mission risks and thought the best way to avoid them would be to not launch in March. We’re looking more at a fall 2016 launch date.” Eh.
From there, Schmit says it will take another 12 months before the new GOES-R satellite – which will be called GOES-16 once it reaches orbit – replaces the current GOES east or west. (“We give them letters on the ground and numbers once in geostationary orbit,” Schmit says. That’s just in case one doesn’t make it to orbit, so they don’t have to jump out of orbit. figures.)
In the coming years, the United States will launch three more GOES-R series satellites equipped with ABI. The first will replace the other half that GOES-16 does not, and the third will be the backup (Japan will also have a second operational Hinawari equipped with AHI, as well as a backup). The fourth round GOES-R (confusingly called GOES-U) will begin the cycle again, replacing GOES-16 and becoming GOES-19.
In the meantime, at least data from Japan will be available, with all its impressive Pacific storms. “In general, data is free and open, with the idea that weather knows no bounds,” says Schmit. The weather may know no bounds, but for now, everyone will have to wait for high-resolution images to come out of bounds in the Western Pacific.
1 UPDATE 2:55 PM EST 8/13/15 Originally this was written as Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies. It’s a real place, but not the place that made these images. “I know it’s confusing, CIMMS is in Oklahoma, CIMSS is in Wisconsin,” Schmit wrote in an email.
2 UPDATE 3:45 PM EST 8/13/15 This originally stated that the 30 second scans were intended to observe extreme weather conditions. Although they are capable of doing so, the Himawari-8 uses them primarily for navigation. The US GOES-R satellite, however, will use these scans to check for crazy storms.