Television Infrared Observation Satellite

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Television InfraRed Observation Satellite
TIROS VI satellite used in Parade of Progress Show.jpg
TIROS 6 satellite
ManufacturerRCA Astrospace
Lockheed Martin
Country of originUnited States
RegimeLow Earth orbit
First TV image of Earth from space

TIROS, or Television InfraRed Observation Satellite, is a series of early weather satellites launched by the United States, beginning with TIROS-1 in 1960. TIROS was the first satellite that was capable of remote sensing of the Earth, enabling scientists to view the Earth from a new perspective: space.[1] The program, promoted by Harry Wexler, proved the usefulness of satellite weather observation, at a time when military reconnaissance satellites were secretly in development or use. TIROS demonstrated at that time that "the key to genius is often simplicity".[2] TIROS is an acronym of "Television InfraRed Observation Satellite" and is also the plural of "tiro" which means "a young soldier, a beginner".[3]

Participants in the TIROS project included the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), United States Army Signal Research and Development Laboratory, Radio Corporation of America (RCA), the United States Weather Bureau Service, the United States Naval Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).[4]


William G. Stroud displaying TIROS-I's circuitry to Lyndon B. Johnson on 4 April 1960.

The 122 kg (269 lb) satellite was launched into a nearly circular low Earth orbit by a Thor-Able rocket. Drum-shaped with a 42 inches (110 cm) diameter, and height of 19 inches (48 cm), the TIROS satellite carried two 6 inches (15 cm) long television cameras. One of the cameras had a wide-angle lens with an f/1.6 aperture that could view an 800-mile-wide area of the Earth. The other camera had a telephoto lens with an f/1.8 aperture and 10- to 12-power magnification[citation needed] compared to the wide angle camera.

The satellite itself was stabilized in its orbit by spinning like a gyroscope. When it first separated from the rocket's third stage, it was spinning at about 136 revolutions per minute (rpm). To take unblurred photographs, a de-spin mechanism slowed the satellite down to 12 rpm after the orbit was achieved.

The camera shutters made possible the series of still pictures that were stored and transmitted back to earth via 2-watt FM transmitters as the satellite approached one of its ground command points. After transmission, the tape was erased or cleaned and readied for more recording.


Diagram showing progression of meteorological satellites from TIROS I to TIROS-N

TIROS continued as the more advanced TIROS Operational System (TOS), and eventually was succeeded by the Improved TIROS Operational System (ITOS) or TIROS-M, and then by the TIROS-N and Advanced TIROS-N series of satellites. NOAA-N Prime (NOAA-19) is the last in the TIROS series of NOAA satellites that observe Earth's weather and the environment.[5]

The naming of the satellites can become confusing because some of them use the same name as the over-seeing organization, such as "ESSA" for TOS satellites overseen by the Environmental Science Services Administration (for example, ESSA-1) and "NOAA" (for example, NOAA-M) for later TIROS-series satellites overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.[5]

  • TIROS-1 (A): launched on 1 April 1960, suffered electrical system failure on 15 June 1960
  • TIROS-2 (B): launched on 23 November 1960, failed on 22 January 1961
  • TIROS-3 (C): launched on 12 July 1961, deactivated on 28 February 1962
  • TIROS-4 (D): launched on 8 February 1962, failed on 30 June 1962 (both cameras failed earlier)
  • TIROS-5 (E): launched on 19 June 1962, failed on 13 May 1963
  • TIROS-6 (F): launched on 18 September 1962, failed on 21 October 1963
  • TIROS-7 (G): launched on 19 June 1963, deactivated on 3 June 1968
  • TIROS-8 (H): launched on 23 December 1963, deactivated on 1 July 1967
  • TIROS-9 (I): launched on 22 January 1965, failed on 15 February 1967. First Tiros satellite in near-polar orbit
  • TIROS-10 (OT-1): launched on 2 July 1965, deactivated on 1 July 1967.

As of June 2009, all TIROS satellites launched between 1960 and 1965 (with the exception of TIROS-7) were still in orbit.[6]

TIROS Operational System[edit]


  • TIROS-M (ITOS-1): launched on 23 January 1970
  • NOAA-1 (ITOS-A): launched on 11 December 1970
  • ITOS-B launched on 21 October 1971, unusable orbit
  • ITOS-C
  • NOAA-2 (ITOS-D): launched on 15 October 1972
  • ITOS-E launched on 16 July 1973, failed to orbit
  • NOAA-3 (ITOS-F): launched on 6 November 1973
  • NOAA-4 (ITOS-G): launched on 15 November 1974
  • NOAA-5 (ITOS-H): launched 29 July 1976


Graphic of the operational life of various satellites of the TIROS-N design
  • TIROS-N (Proto-flight): Launched 13 October 1978 into a 470-nmi orbit; deactivated on 27 February 1981.[7]
  • NOAA-6 (NOAA-A prior to launch): Launched 27 June 1979 into a 450-nmi orbit. The HIRS, a primary mission sensor, failed 19 September 1983. The satellite exceeded its two-year designed lifetime by almost six years when deactivated on 31 March 1987.[7][8]
  • NOAA-B: Launched 29 May 1980. It failed to achieve a usable orbit because of a booster engine anomaly.[5]
  • NOAA-7 (C): Launched 23 June 1981 into a 470-nmi orbit; deactivated June 1986.[7]
  • NOAA-12 (D): Launched 14 May 1991 into a 450-nmi AM orbit, out of sequence (see below). Placed in standby mode on 14 December 1998, when NOAA-15 became operational[7] and deactivated on 10 August 2007, setting an extended lifetime record of over sixteen years.[5]

Advanced TIROS-N[edit]

The Advanced TIROS-N (ATN) spacecraft were similar to the NOAA-A through -D satellites, apart from an enlarged Equipment Support Module to allow integration of additional payloads. A change from the TIROS-N through NOAA-D spacecraft was that spare word locations in the low bit rate data system TIROS Information Processor (TIP) was used for special instruments such as the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBE) and SBUV/2. The search and rescue (SAR) system became independent, utilizing a special frequency for transmission of data to the ground.[9]

  • NOAA-8 (E): Launched 28 March 1983 into a 450 nmi (830 km; 520 mi) orbit, out of sequence (before NOAA-D) to get the first SAR system on a US satellite operational.[5] Deactivated 29 December 1985, following a thermal runaway which destroyed a battery.[8]
  • NOAA-9 (F): Launched 12 December 1984 into 470 nmi "afternoon" orbit and was the first satellite to carry an SBUV/2 instrument. It was deactivated on 1 August 1993 but was reactivated three weeks later, after the failure of NOAA-13. The SARR transmitter failed on 18 December 1997 and the satellite was permanently deactivated on 13 February 1998.[7][8]
  • NOAA-10 (G): Launched 17 September 1986 into a 450 nmi "morning" orbit. Placed in standby mode on 17 September 1991 (when NOAA-12 became operational)[8] and deactivated on 30 August 2001.[7]
  • NOAA-11 (H): Launched 24 September 1988 into a 470 nmi PM orbit. Placed in standby mode in March 1995 and was reactivated in May 1997 to provide soundings after an HIRS anomaly on NOAA-12.[8] Decommissioned 16 June 2004.[10]
  • NOAA-13 (I): Launched 9 August 1993 into a 470 nmi PM orbit; two weeks after launch the spacecraft suffered a catastrophic power system anomaly. Attempts to contact or command the spacecraft were unsuccessful.[7]
  • NOAA-14 (J): Launched 30 December 1994 into a 470 nmi PM orbit and decommissioned 23 May 2007 after more than twelve years of operation.[10]
  • NOAA-15 (K): Launched 13 May 1998 into a 450 nmi morning orbit and replaced NOAA-12 on 14 December 1998, as the primary AM spacecraft. Now secondary, with MetOp-B as the AM primary.[11]
  • NOAA-16 (L): Launched 21 September 2000 into a 470-nmi afternoon orbit; replaced NOAA-14 on 19 March 2001, as the primary AM spacecraft.[7] Decommissioned on 9 June 2014 due to major spacecraft anomaly.[12]
  • NOAA-17 (M): Launched 24 June 2002 into a 450 nmi AM orbit and decommissioned 10 April 2013.[10]
  • NOAA-18 (N): Launched 20 May 2005 into a 470 nmi afternoon orbit and replaced NOAA-16 as the PM primary spacecraft on 30 August 2005.[11][12]
  • NOAA-19 (N Prime): Launched 6 February 2009 into a 470 nmi afternoon orbit[13] and replaced NOAA-18 as the PM primary spacecraft on 2 June 2009.[11][14]


  1. ^ "Space-Based Remote Sensing of the Earth: A Report to the Congress". NASA. NASA Technical Reports Server. hdl:2060/19880008662. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Modern Mechanix: How Tiros Photographs the World
  3. ^ "tiro - Wiktionary". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  4. ^ EXPLORES! (EXPloring and Learning the Operations and Resources of Environmental Satellites!) Archived 1997-07-24 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c d e "NOAA-N Prime" (PDF). NP-2008-10-056-GSFC. NOAA. 16 December 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2010. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ "U.S. Space Objects Registry". Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Archived from the original on 21 May 2009. Retrieved 25 June 2009. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "History of NOAA's environmental satellites". Spaceflight Now. 22 June 2002. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e NOAA-K (PDF) (Booklet), Greenbelt, Maryland: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 1998, p. 20, NP-1997-12-052-GSFC, retrieved 12 June 2015
  9. ^ Kidwell, Katherine B., ed. (November 1998). NOAA Polar Orbiter Data User's Guide (PDF). National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, NC: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. sec. 1.1. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  10. ^ a b c "POES Decommissioned Satellites". Office of Satellite and Product Operations. NOAA. 30 September 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  11. ^ a b c "POES Operational Status". Office of Satellite and Product Operations. NOAA. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  12. ^ a b "NOAA retires NOAA-16 polar satellite". NOAA News Archive. 9 June 2014. Retrieved 7 June 2015. NOAA exclusively operates afternoon polar orbit spacecraft, while its key international partner, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), flies mid-morning orbit spacecraft.
  13. ^ Justin Ray (6 February 2009). "History Abounds in Launch of Crucial Weather Satellite". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 25 October 2010. A last-of-its-kind weather observatory...
  14. ^ Harrod, Emily D. (28 May 2009). "PSB - All POES, All Instruments, Switch to NOAA-19 as Operational Afternoon Satellite, 2 June 2009". Office of Satellite and Product Operations. NOAA. Retrieved 7 June 2015.

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