The Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument on board the Metop-C polar-orbiting satellite will deliver advanced capabilities, giving meteorologists more information about sea surface temperatures, forest fires, vegetation, snow, and ice.

In 1978, the third-generation, Television Infrared Observation Satellite, or TIROS-N, launched with a mission to take weather observations using a new instrument called the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer, or AVHRR. Forty years later, the 17th and last AVHRR successfully launched November 6, 2018, aboard Europe’s Metop-C satellite.

Metop-C is the third satellite in the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) polar system series, which started with the launch of Metop-A in 2006.

AVHRR is a visible/infrared radiometer. Internationally, it is recognized as the definitive operational imager for global weather data. The first AVHRR started with four channels, but the Metop-C AVHRR includes six multispectral channels and delivers additional capabilities, including low-light energy detection, snow/ice discrimination, forest fire detection, sea surface temperature, and global vegetation index.

“We have made significant improvements to the AVHRR over the last 40 years,” said Paul Wloszek, sensors director for Harris' Space and Intelligence Systems, Environmental Solutions business. “The next-generation, the Enhanced AVHRR, builds on its predecessor’s legacy with 10 channels for much improved spectrum detection.”

Improved detectors provide a one-kilometer constant footprint and updated electronics, including onboard image processing. Channel selections, bandwidths, and signal processing algorithms were optimized to meet military mission requirements.

In 2013, Harris was awarded a $13 million U.S. Air Force study contract to design modifications and to develop a final concept for an affordable low-risk weather imaging sensor in support of its Weather Satellite Follow-on program. The purpose of the study was to solidify the design for a new military weather imaging sensor and ensure the instrument could be flown on multiple satellite platforms.

Harris designed the improved AVHRR to provide the Air Force and other warfighters with better weather information, especially regarding clouds, which is critical to mission planning.

Operational AVHRRs have had long lives on orbit. The instrument on the NOAA-14 satellite was delivered in 1984, launched in 1994, and is still working. In fact, the instruments have logged 176 years of total on-orbit life. At an average of eight years in operation, life expectancy has far exceeded the three-year life expectancy required by contract.

Once it is operational, Metop-C will fly in a polar, mid-morning orbit. U.S. polar satellites fly in a mid-afternoon orbit. The satellites complement each other by providing a continuity of data. Combined with data gathered by geostationary weather satellites, meteorologists can use the information that is collected to provide the most accurate short- and long-term weather forecasts.

The EUMETSAT Polar System is part of the U.S. Joint Polar System, which is a partnership between NOAA and EUMETSAT that dates back to 1998.

All EUMETSAT images shown here are subject to EUMETSAT copyright.