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Information courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Additional information can be found at

QuikSCATNASA's Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) was lofted into space at 7:15 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Saturday, June 19, 1999 atop a U.S. Air Force Titan II launch vehicle from Space Launch Complex 4 West at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The satellite was launched in a south-southwesterly direction, soaring over the Pacific Ocean at sunset as it ascended into space to achieve an initial elliptical orbit with a maximum altitude of about 800 kilometers (500 miles) above Earth's surface.

Built in a record time of just 12 months, QuikScat will provide climatologists, meteorologists and oceanographers with daily, detailed snapshots of the winds swirling above the world's oceans. Labeled as NASA's next "El Niño watcher," QuikSCAT will be used to better understand global weather abnormalities and to generally improve weather forecasting.

QuikSCAT's predecessor, NSCAT (NASA Scatterometer), a microwave radar scatterometer, measured near-surface wind vectors (both speed and direction) over the global oceans starting in August 1996. The QuikSCAT mission is a "quick recovery" mission to fill the gap created by the loss of data from NSCAT, after the satellite it was flying on lost power in June 1997.

Winds play a major role in every aspect of weather on Earth. They directly affect the turbulent exchanges of heat, moisture and greenhouse gases between Earth's atmosphere and the ocean. To better understand their impact on oceans and improve weather forecasting, QuikSCAT carries a state-of-the-art radar instrument called a scatterometer for a two-year science mission. Known as "SeaWinds," this scatterometer operates by transmitting high-frequency microwave pulses to the ocean surface and measuring the "backscattered" or echoed radar pulses bounced back to the satellite. The instrument senses ripples caused by winds near the ocean's surface, from which scientists can compute the winds' speed and direction. The instruments can acquire hundreds of times more observations of surface wind velocity each day than can ships and buoys, and are the only remote-sensing systems able to provide continuous, accurate and high-resolution measurements of both wind speeds and direction regardless of weather conditions.

SeaWinds uses a rotating dish antenna with two spot beams that sweep in a circular pattern. The antenna radiates microwave pulses at a frequency of 13.4 gigahertz across broad regions on Earth's surface. The instrument is currently collecting data over ocean, land, and ice in a continuous, 1,800-kilometer-wide band, making approximately 400,000 measurements and covering 90% of Earth's surface each day.

next: History of Scatterometry


by Steve Graham
July 23, 1999


History of Scatterometry
Why is Scatterometry Important?

QuikSCAT launch
Watch the launch clip (in QuickTime movie format) of the QuikSCAT satellite. (1.9MB) or (3.3MB)

QuikSCAT solar panel deployment
Animation depicting solar panel deployment and SeaWinds instrument scanning. (1.5MB) or (16.2MB)

Other Relevant Ocean Fact Sheets:
Ocean and Climate
El Niño
La Niña