Directly or indirectly, weather information has become an essential part of our everyday lives. Forecasters rely on it to predict routine and extreme weather. Fire departments use it to detect hot spots. Environmental agencies need it to analyze air quality to ensure safe living environments. And the list goes on.

Harris has addressed these needs through more than 40 years of weather imaging expertise—most recently with our development of the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), designed, built, and tested in our advanced facilities.

"We have been providing low-Earth-orbiting, or LEO, weather imagers and sounders to NASA and NOAA since the 1970s, and the first of Harris' geostationary-earth orbit, or GEO, imagers and sounders launched on GOES in 1994," explains Paul Griffith, chief solutions engineer in Harris’ Space and Intelligence Systems Environmental Solutions business unit. "More recently, we were selected to apply our decades of expertise to develop next-generation technology—ABI, a completely new design that collects data five times faster and with twice the resolution."

To better understand what ABI does, Griffith suggests thinking of the ABI as a digital camera built to capture contiguous images of the earth. Some cameras have both visible sensors to take pictures during the day and specialized thermal sensors to take pictures at night. ABI expands on this concept, using an imaging reflectometer/radiometer that has 16 sensing channels—11 more than previous imagers—that span visible, near-infrared, and infrared wavelengths. “Each channel delivers data with unique characteristics, which is then fed into mapping and forecasting tools that can be used for a variety of applications,” Griffith says. Chief among these applications are:

  • Weather forecasting. The global economic impact from weather-related disasters exceeds $100 billion annually. ABI improves the speed of data collection, yielding critical information in seconds, not minutes, to provide real-time weather information. ABI's channels also improve forecasting by providing more information about clouds, moisture, and water vapor.
  • Fire detection and characterization. In the U.S., fires burn millions of acres each year, destroying resources and impacting wildlife, property, and lives. The cost of suppressing these fires has grown to billions of dollars annually. Fire departments use ground observations to assist their operations, but this approach is time-consuming, expensive, and incomplete. ABI enables detection of fire characteristics, such as location, size, temperature, and power output.
  • Air pollution analysis. Approximately 3.7 million deaths are attributed to ambient air pollution every year, and air pollution leads to a number of diseases. ABI enables customers to determine air pollution characteristics such as location, size, and severity.
  • Volcanic ash monitoring. Approximately 50-60 volcanoes erupt annually, impacting aviation, health, and economics. ABI can deliver a complete, regional view of volcanic ash cloud data.
  • Vegetation assessment. Both governments and agricultural companies need to optimize crop yields and reduce production costs. Today's vegetation monitoring technologies are expensive and incomplete. ABI enables customers to better determine vegetative health.

How ABI Works

ABI is unique among other passive meteorological imaging scanners due to its two-mirror scanner design. “With independent east/west and north/south scan mirrors, the system can be repositioned quickly, freeing more time for data collection. It also uses less power,” shares Griffith, “It’s the only weather instrument able to provide flexible, custom scanning that is configurable on-orbit.”

ABI builds data images one swath at a time. By interleaving swaths of images, the imager enables simultaneous scans of a hemisphere (full disk), a regional or country-level area, and a local even, such as a storm or fire. Rapid updates (every 30 seconds) of local events can be obtained without impacting the cadence of the routine 10-minute, full-disk images and five-minute, continental U.S. (CONUS) images. For example, when a storm approaches a major metropolitan area, the rapid updates permit better forecasts of its path and severity, while the CONUS images provide context and a sense of what will come next.

"ABI is kind of like an mp3 player,” Griffith says. “With an mp3 player, you can create and upload playlists that contain multiple albums and tracks. ABI lets you create configurations (playlists) that tell the system which scenes (albums) to collect and which swaths (tracks) of those scenes to image. You can have multiple 'playlists'—or various timelines that govern which image swaths to collect, in what order, and when."

ABI in Your World

ABI innovative scanning technology delivers continuous imagery and atmospheric measurements with a higher level of detail and at faster intervals than other weather sensor systems. This enables meteorologists to fine-tune their prediction models, resulting in more accurate forecasts that let us plan outdoor tasks and activities, anticipate daily commute times, and prepare for bad weather with a higher level of confidence.

In October 2014, the Japanese Meteorological Agency launched a Harris ABI-class instrument, the Advanced Himawari Imager, aboard the Himawari-8 satellite, providing coverage of the eastern hemisphere of the Earth. This fall, the western hemisphere will receive coverage with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R) satellite launch, featuring the ABI instrument. These first two imagers will be followed by ABI-class instruments on Japan's Himawari-9; NOAA’s GOES-S, GOES-T, and GOES-U; and South Korea's GEO-KOMPSAT-2A.