EXCLUSIVE: NASA set to launch early warning weather satellite

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- NASA is preparing to launch a new weather satellite in two weeks that may enable earlier warnings for severe weather.

The technology was developed at a Lockheed Martin research lab in Palo Alto.

By the time we see lightning, severe weather is at our doorstep. But out in space, there is lightning in clouds five to 13 miles high.

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The 200-pound instrument is going to be capturing each bolt on what's essentially a giant digital camera and sending data to the ground.

"The camera operates at 500 frames per second and it looks for a certain wavelength of atomic oxygen that's created by lightning, so it can look and penetrate through clouds and see lightning," said Jeff Vanden Beukel, a program director at Lockheed Martin.

Lightning at that altitude, especially cloud to cloud, turns out to be a good predictor of severe weather, especially tornadoes, on Earth. And it could empower meteorologists to provide earlier warnings.

Lockheed Martin researchers have been working on this lightning mapper for 10 years.

It will be joined by another instrument to monitor solar flares. "Solar flares influence the Earth's atmosphere and they affect things like radio propagation and they can affect things like power grids on the ground," Beukel said.

The data from this NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) managed satellite will be available free to forecasters to help people know of fast-changing conditions.

"We're going to be saving lives by better predicting weather on the ground and helping people to get to safety when severe weather's destruction," Vanden Beukel said.

This 200-pound instrument will be joined by five others aboard the GOES-R satellite, which will be launched on November 16 from Cape Canaveral and going up into space 22,000 miles.

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