In these days of smart phones and 24 hour TV weather channels, it is easy to forget that being able to predict storms like Hurricane Sandy requires not only massive supercomputers to crunch through raw satellite data but starts years before as everything from the weather models to the satellites and sensors providing the data are designed. The New York Times reminded us of this in a weekend article shedding light on the potential gap of earth sensing satellite data over the next few years due to delays in a satellite program run by the National Oceanic and Atomospheric Adminstration and NASA.
Photo courtesy NASA, GOES-13 Satellite
Unless you are an atmospheric scientist, if you are in the US and someone mentions weather satellites you probably think of NASA, not the lesser known NOAA. Historically NASA has been almost synonymous with satellite design. In fact NASTRAN, one of the original high performance computing programs used for satellite structure design, was an acronym formed from NASA Structural Analysis. It is somewhat ironic that while NOAA struggles to complete their next weather satellite, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft returned to earth today after becoming the first commercial space vehicle to resupply the International Space Station.
Increases in computing power over the years have made is significantly easier to design everything from $200M spacecraft to $20 model toys. Even the venerable NASTRAN code has been updated to take advantage of Nvidia GPU acceleration. So not only can use Nvidia GPUs for the type of image processing that generates the weather images you see on the TV news, you can use GPUs to design your own satellite. From electrical to mechanical design, high performance computing systems are increasingly used across the manufacturing industry to increase product quality and speed time to market. But I’ll leave it to the investigative reporting of the New York Times to discuss NOAA’s weather satellite delays. For today at least, we are lucky that NOAA is providing amazing coverage of the developing storm.
Meanwhile, to all of those in the possible path of Hurricane Sandy, those smartphones and 24 hour weather channels are no doubt much welcome. Take care, and hoping the best for everyone in the storm’s path. Most major news sites are providing updates on the storm, if you need more info, the New York Times Hurricane Sandy Live Update page is a good place to start.