TIROS and Satellite Meteorology

Satellite Meteorology
TIROS, GOES-R and other Space Satellites


The NOAA Central Library (NCL) developed this website to mark NOAA's celebration of the 50th Anniversary of TIROS I, the first meteorological satellite, launched on April 1, 1960. The website gives a short history of TIROS I and includes the TIROS Bibliography published by the NCL and a Photo and Video Gallery offers a selection of digital videos and over 530 still images on TIROS and various aspects of satellite meteorology.. 

In addition, this page offers a selection of links to significant resources highlighting environmental satellites, satellite meteorology, and related educational websites from with NOAA and from outside agencies and offices.


TIROS I (Television Infrared Observation Satellite I) was launched on April 1, 1960 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The main objective of the TIROS program was to demonstrate the feasibility and capability of observing the Earth's cloud cover and weather patterns from space. Although the program was experimental, this first space-borne system demonstrated the capability to acquire information which meteorologists could immediately use in an operational setting.

TIROS I was the world's first weather satellite to test the experimental television techniques leading to a world-wide meteorological satellite information system. It also was the first satellite to test sun angle and horizon sensor systems for spacecraft orientation. There were several participating agencies in the test, including NASA, the US ARMY Signal Research and Development Lab, the US Weather Bureau, RCA, and the US Naval Photographic Interpretation Center.


TIROS I launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 1, 1960

The spacecraft was 42 inches in diameter, 19 inches high and weighed 270 pounds. The satellite was made of aluminum alloy and stainless steel and covered by 9200 solar cells. The solar cells served to charge the nickel-cadmium (nicad) batteries. Three pairs of solid-propellant spin rockets were mounted on the base plate. Two television cameras, one low resolution and one high resolution, were housed in the craft. A magnetic tape recorder for each camera was supplied for storing photographs while the satellite was out of range of the ground station network. The antennas consisted of four rods from the base plate to serve as transmitters and one vertical rod from the center of the top plate to serve as a receiver. The craft was spin-stabilized and space-oriented (not Earth-oriented). Therefore, the cameras could only be operated while they were pointing at the Earth when that portion of the Earth was in sunlight. The video systems relayed thousands of pictures containing cloud-cover views of the Earth. Early photographs provided information concerning the structure of large-scale cloud regimes. TIROS I was operational for 78 days and proved that satellites could be a useful tool for surveying global weather conditions from space. It was followed by nine more test satellites launched between November 23, 1960 (TIROS II) and July 2, 1965 (TIROS X) to provide routine, daily weather observations.

For more information on TIROS satellites, please consult the NASA Science Web site, under “TIROS”[1], and Mission and Spacecraft Library, in Quicklook index, under: "TIROS" [2]


First picture from space - TIROS I satellite, April, 1960

“Since those first exciting days, satellite systems have become an intrinsic part of weather forecasting, oceanography, terrestrial mapping, and hazard detection. NESDIS and its ancestor organizations have processed, interpreted, and archived millions of satellite images that were acquired by those early systems and the thirty or so NOAA owned and operated satellites that have done so much to protect and warn the citizens of the United States.”[3]

To view the pictorial history of TIROS and other NOAA satellites consult the NOAA in Space album.  

“Today, the nation's environmental satellites are operated by NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service in Suitland, MD. NOAA's environmental satellite system is composed of two types of satellites: geostationary operational environmental satellites for national, regional, short-range warning and now-casting; and polar-orbiting environmental satellites for global, long-term forecasting and environmental monitoring. Both GOES and POES are necessary for providing a complete global weather monitoring system. Both also carry search and rescue instruments to relay signals from aviators and mariners in distress.”[4]

[1] TIROS. In: NASA Science. Missions.

[2] TIROS, Television Infrared Observation Satellite. In: Mission and Spacecraft Library.

[3] Theberge, Jr., Albert E. NOAA in Space. In: NOAA Photo Library.

[4] Viets, Pat. 2000. April 1 marks 40th anniversary of first weather satellite. In: NOAA 2000-023 [press release]

NOAA Resources

NOAA Satellites: Main page from NOAA for links to satellite information resources.

NESDIS (National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service): NESDIS, also know as the NOAA Satellite and Information Service, provides access to global satellite data and imagery, provides data and information services including Earth system monitoring, performs official assessments of the environment, and conducts related research.  Additionally, NESDIS offers educational materials for the general public.  

NOAA Space Weather: This site provides information current and archived space environmental data.  Included are links to the Space Weather Prediction Center, and educational resources for teachers.

GOES SatelliteGOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) is a joint program between NOAA and NASA.  Information about the program, including satellite imagery and project information can be found at the following links:

Additional Resources

NASA: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) often collaborates with NOAA on satellite endeavors.  Within their site the are numerous resources on satellite technology, missions, and projects including the Landsat program.  

U.S. Centennial Flight Commission: Meteorological Satellites: Provides a brief history & timeline of meteorological satellites.



Funding for this project was provided by the NOAA Climate Database Modernization Program (CDMP), National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, NC. Please credit the NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project when using these documents. Please credit the NOAA Photo Library when using photos, and the NOAA Central Library when using online videos.



For additional information, questions or comments on this page, please contact our Team:
Anna.Fiolek@noaa.gov, 301-713-2607, ext. 147
Library.Reference@noaa.gov, 301-713-2607 ext. 157