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NOAA Command and Data Acquisition Station

Part One
Covering the years 1965 to 1990
(Written by Jim Norton, 1991)

The Wallops Command and Data Acquisition Station was built in 1965 on ten acres of land leased from NASA Wallops Island. The site was once part of a nine hole golf course belonging to a US Naval Air Station (NAS Chincoteague). The Navy relinquished the property to NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautic s), NASA's forbearer, in the late 1950's.

The Station became operational in January, 1966, with a staff of 46 personnel. It was one of the few completely new technical government enterprises to be staffed entirely by government personnel from its inception. The first operational Meteorological satellites, ESSA 1 and ESSA 2 were launched on February 3 and 28 of the same year. (ESSA, the Environmental Science Services Administration, was the pre-1970 forerunner of NOAA).

The heritage of these first polar orbiters was the original ten TIROS (Television and infrared Observational Satellite) satellites dating back to April 1, 1960 and built by RCA. Only the last two TIROS satellites were launched as polar orbiters. The others, although in circular low earth orbits, were inclined to the equator by 48 and 58 degrees and were spin stabilized such that the instruments saw the earth only during brief periods of their orbits. The Instrumentation of later NOAA polar orbiters relied heavily upon the experience gained from NASA's NIMBUS satellites, launched between August, 1964 and October, 1978.

Within the first three months of operations, CDAS technicians reduced the entire NASA TIROS ground station (located at NASA Wallops) to a half dozen equipment racks, integrated them into the ESSA ground station and operated both series of satellites, until the demise of TIROS 9 in early 1967.

The NASA Applications Technology Satellites, specifically ATS-1, launched in December of 1966 and ATS-3, launched in November of 1967, conclusively proved the value of geosynchronous observational platforms for meteorological use and laid the groundwork for the present GOES series. Although the instrumentation of these satellites, built by Hughes Aircraft, was primitive by today's standards, they were remarkable in several respects. They were among the first to achieve geosynchronous orbit, ATS-3 transmitted color imagery, and both were exceptionally long lived. Even after the imaging instruments failed (10/72 for ATS-1 and 10/75 for ATS-3), they were used by NOAA as weather facsimile (WEFAX) transponders until December 31, 1978. As ATS-3, its fuel depleted, drifted westward over the Pacific, it was used by several schools and universities as a VHF transponder between islands for at least ten more years.

In 1968, the first geosynchronous receive capability was installed at Wallops to process and record ATS imagery and telemetry. Liaison was established between the CDA Station and the NASA STDN Station at Rosman, NC and eventually ESSA/NOAA took over complete control as NASA fulfilled its commitments. These first scanning telescopes were small, with about a six inch mirror and were mounted on the outer periphery of the satellite, instead of concentrically with the satellite spin axis. The entire telescope assembly moved +/- 10 degrees north/south as the satellite rotated at 100 rpm.

As the telescope scanned the earth, the approximate 10 km resolution data from the visible detectors was relayed to the earth via an analog FM transmission link. On the ground, the data was processed and recorded on magnetic tape for dissemination. These tapes formed the basis for subsequent geosynchronous satellite meteorological analysis. Needless to say, the experience gained from these early experiments proved invaluable for all elements of the foundling National Environmental Satellite Service.

As plans proceeded for NOAA's formal entry into operational geosynchronous satellites, the Wallops CDAS operations building was expanded fifty feet to the south in 1970, providing an additional 2500 square feet of operations floor space. At this time, five senior Wallops technicians were assigned to the project to provide the necessary liaison to insure a smooth transition into the new operation.

SMS-1 (Synchronous Meteorological Satellite-l), built by Philco/Ford was successfully launched on May 7, 1974 and was followed by six months of intensive testing, analysis, and operational scenario development. It is interesting to note that the original operations scenario, when envisioned in the late 1960's, was planned around one satellite transmitting a few images a day, interleaved with periods of WeFax and satellite ranging. Well before the first launch, provisions for two operational satellites were in place and shortly thereafter, the daily routine expanded to 48 twenty minute images and ten minute WeFax chips/ranging periods, on half-hour cycles. The output doubled after the launch of SMS-2 on February 6, 1975. The first fully NOAA funded satellite, GOES-1, was launched on October 16, 1975. The Wallops team quickly became fully immersed, not only in operations, but in innovative operational/systems improvisations and modifications to enhance and insure continuous, reliable data throughput.

What started as research operations, RISOPS (Rapid Interval Scan Operations - 15 minute imaging) and RRSD's (Research Rapid Scan Days 3 minute imaging), became operational in 1976, enabling researchers and meteorologists to better characterize and predict severe short term thunderstorm/tornado and longer term hurricane conditions. During the same period, Data Collection System and WeFax operations expanded dramatically.

Wallops provided training, technical, and logistics support for ESA (European Space Agency) personnel before and during the 1979 FGGE (First Global GARP Experiment), when The US ] loaned GOES-1 to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for a year's use at 57.8 E. Longitude, over the Indian Ocean.

GOES-4, built by Hughes Aircraft and the first of the present generation of GOES satellites, was launched on September 9, 1980. The latest of Santa Barbara Research Center's instruments not only introduced the multi-spectral IR imaging capability, but added atmospheric sounding of temperature and water vapor as well. Westinghouse, who had built all the image processing ground systems since ATS-1, also built the experimental ground system designed allowed a 70 day proof-of-concept test to provide insight into system integrity and operational viability.

As it turned out, the 70 day test stretched into almost six years of a seven-day-a- week, sixteen-hour-a-day "transparent" experiment (transparent, at least most of the time to operational products users).

With the advent of another operations building expansion, almost doubling its size, and significant new ground systems, built jointly by Westinghouse and Integral Systems Inc, the new products became operational in 1986. In the meantime, Wallops technicians designed, built, and installed the sophisticated interfaces necessary to integrate the stand-alone experimental equipment with multiple operational systems in order to accommodate simultaneous experimental/operational requirements. In conjunction with Scientists at the University of Wisconsin's Space Science Engineering Center (SSEC), Wallops was also instrumental in establishing the best use scheduling of the satellite's capabilities, which remains largely intact. Considering the fact that the single experimental ground system controlled the satellite instrument and that any failure degraded operational commitments, the success of the project stands as a tribute to all the many organizations involved.

Part two for the years 1991 to 2002 will be coming shortly



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