There's rare good news for the beleaguered U.S. environmental satellite fleet.
Two years ago, officials with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that a key weather and climate satellite called NPP scheduled for launch next year would be, as we put it then, "essentially colorblind, at least as far as the oceans are concerned." That was because the main sensor on that spacecraft, VIIRS, was providing good data on factors such as clouds, weather, and sea temperatures but lacked the capability to measure ocean color and aerosols, data used widely by marine biologists, oceanographers, and climate scientists. NASA repeated that prognosis this January.
With orbiting satellites that measure ocean color all beyond their shelf life, glum ocean scientists were left to hope that VIIRS could be fixed by 2013, in time for the launch of the next craft in the multi-satellite NPOESS series. (Since then, it's been split into two parts, which includes the JPSS program.)
Now, ScienceInsider has learned, recent tests by government experts suggest that VIIRS may yet collect high-quality data on ocean color. Scientists with the National Institute of Standards and Technology conducted a full examination of the sensor in June and found the "crosstalk"—interference on the sensor's different parts—less of a problem than NASA officials had been led to believe. "There's a fighting chance to get ocean color on NPP," says a newly optimistic David Siegel, an oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara.