Eleven Ways We’ve Been Studying Weather and Climate


Since the 1950s, Lockheed Martin has developed satellites, Doppler weather radars, upper-air observing systems, hurricane-hunter aircraft, and weather data information systems for federal agencies. The information we gather from these sources helps to improve forecasts, allocate resources more efficiently and save lives.

Here is a look at 11 ways we have been supporting weather and climate research to expand scientific knowledge and improve life on Earth:

1. WC-130J Aircraft
The U.S. Air Force Reserve Command’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, otherwise famously known as the “Hurricane Hunters,” operates the WC-130J out of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. The aircraft penetrates tropical disturbances and storms, hurricanes and winter storms to obtain data on storm movement, size and intensity. The unit provides surveillance of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the central Pacific Ocean to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.






2. DMSP Military Weather Satellite – With more than 50 years of service, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program is the longest running production satellite. Currently featuring seven satellites operating in polar orbit, the DMSP constellation provides strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air. Equipped with a sophisticated sensor suite, DMSP satellites can image visible and infrared cloud cover; measure precipitation, surface temperature and soil moisture; and collect specialized global meteorological, oceanographic and solar-geophysical information in all weather conditions.

3. WP-3D Orion Aircraft
Similar to the Hurricane Hunters operating the WC-130J, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flies the WP-3D Orion into hurricanes, principally to study the processes and structure of the storms. Air crews deploy Global Positioning System drop windsondes, devices that radio back measurements such as pressure, humidity, temperature and wind. The readings provide a detailed look at a hurricane’s interior structure and intensity. Data gathered from WP-3D missions – lasting up to nine to 10 hours – help forecasters make accurate hurricane predictions and improve forecast models.






4. ER-2 NASA Aircraft – Derived from the iconic U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, the ER-2 operated by NASA collects information about Earth’s resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics and oceanic processes. NASA operates two ER-2 aircraft as flying labs in the Airborne Science Program under the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

5. UARS (Satellite) – NASA operated the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite from 1991 to 2005. UARS measured ozone and chemical compounds found in the Earth’s ozone layer, which affected ozone chemistry and processes. UARS also measured wind and temperatures in the stratosphere as well as energy input from the sun.

6. GOES-R Weather Satellite
The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series will improve our nation’s weather forecasting with earlier indications of storm intensification, improved tornado warning lead times and enhanced hurricane direction and landfall projections. GOES-R will feature advanced instrument capabilities, including more visible, infrared and near-infrared channels, four times the imaging resolution and new lightning detection technology. To be operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the first of four GOES-R satellites is scheduled to launch in early 2016.






7. Radiosondes – A radiosonde is a small, expendable telemetry instrument carried aloft by a weather balloon to measure and transmit atmospheric temperature, pressure and humidity through a radio. Radiosondes are used by meteorological organizations, research institutions and military agencies around the world. Utilizing GPS receivers and sophisticated temperature and humidity-sensing technology and processing, the LMS6 Radiosonde provides optimized meteorological, wind and position data as a weather balloon ascends through the atmosphere. Radiosonde products obtain high-resolution, high-accuracy atmospheric profiles from the surface to altitudes in excess of 18 miles (30 kilometers). Over the past 60 years, Lockheed Martin and its legacy companies have provided more than 6 million radiosondes for use around the world.

8. Aegis SPY-1 Weather Radar
When it comes to tracking severe weather, the proven capabilities of Lockheed Martin’s SPY-1 radar are second to none — both at sea (as the “eyes” of the Aegis fleet) and on land. In fact, the first production unit of SPY-1 (number 001) now resides in Norman, Oklahoma, as a critical part of the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Severe Storm Laboratory. Lockheed Martin is collaborating with NOAA and the Federal Aviation Administration to demonstrate how multifunction, phased-array radar technology like that found in SPY-1 can improve storm tracking —and save lives by providing warning for severe weather up to 10 minutes in advance.






9. TIROS (Weather Satellite) – The Television and Infrared Observation Satellite revolutionized weather observation and forecasting. Launched on April 1, 1960, TIROS-1 was the world’s first weather satellite and demonstrated the advantages of mapping Earth’s cloud cover from space. It paved the way for more advanced spacecraft that would significantly impact forecasting capabilities. A total of 44 TIROS satellites launched between 1960 and 2009. 

10. Terra Satellite – NASA launched the Terra satellite Dec. 18, 1999, as the Earth Observing System’s flagship satellite. Terra has been collecting data about Earth’s changing climate. The satellite carries five state-of-the-art sensors that have been studying interactions among Earth’s atmosphere, land, oceans and radiant energy.






11. National Science Foundation’s
U.S. Antarctic Program 

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for this program, in which universities, research institutions and several nations study the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet. Supporting scientific research on the highest, driest, coldest, windiest and emptiest place on Earth requires exceptional logistics and planning expertise. A few of the unique challenges include managing the world’s longest supply chain, building airfields on ice and snow, and managing remote field camps, ice-breaking research vessels and the largest research stations and laboratories on the cold continent.