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A First Look at Global Winds From New ISS-RapidScat [VIDEO]

Oct 07, 2014 11:59 AM EDT

Last Wednesday, NASA's Earth-observing Rapid Scatterometer was turned on for the first time, immediately launching into a mission that will collect data on the speed and direction of the Earth's all-important oceanic winds.

The Scatterometer, called the ISS-RapidScat, sits on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS) like a very expensive and impressive hood ornament. It was installed between Sept. 29 and 30, and was the first ISS instrument installed entirely by robotic "hands" since the station was first built.

When it first spun up on Oct. 1, the RapidScat immediately began scanning the Earth, transmitting and receiving its first winds data. The instrument is still due for about two weeks of preliminary calibration, but you can check out what the kind of data imagery this state-of-the-art device is already creating below. (Scroll to read on...)

The device even captured detailed imagery of Tropical Storm Simon as it approached Mexico's Baja California peninsula on Friday.

"We have been very lucky that within the first days of operations we have already been able to observe a developing tropical cyclone," RapidScat Project Scientist Ernesto Rodriguez said in a statement. "The quality of these data reflect the level of testing and preparation that the team has put in prior to launch."

The RapidScat was crafted for the sole purpose of replacing and improving on the position of the ISS-QuickScat, which monitored ocean winds to provide essential measurements used in weather predictions until it ceased functioning in 2009. The new RapidScat will help international parties monitor things like hurricanes and even churning trade-winds, which are changing in the wake of global climate change.

Simply put, the instrument uses radar pulses reflected from the ocean's surface from different angles to calculate ocean surface wind speeds and directions - factors that influence things like extreme weather and ocean surface temperature.

The detailed Earth-monitoring mission should be in full swing in a few weeks time.

You can watch a video of the device's installation below.

[Credit: NASA JPL]

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