Weather Satellite Comes To Newark

NEWARK — Perhaps the latest illustration of NASA and Wallops Island’s increased presence in Worcester County and across the Lower Shore was the addition of a nearly three-story tall weather satellite station in Newark last week.

As part of NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, the agency is erecting satellite facilities in remote areas all over the country to collect data on rainfall and snowfall predictions based on the highly technical analysis of clouds. Because of its proximity to NASA’s facility at Wallops Island along the Virginia coast just south of Assateague, the rural town of Newark was chosen as a location for one of the satellites.

The satellite facility looks somewhat out of place amid the cornfields and farms along Five Mile Branch Rd. near the Queponco Railroad Museum in tiny Newark. The dish itself is 28 feet in diameter and at its height stands about 28 feet tall.

“First of all, it is relatively close to our facility at Wallops, where much of the ground data collected will be transmitted and analyzed,” Dr. Walt Petersen, NASA’s Chief of the GPM mission and ground validation science manager, said. “In addition, we were looking for a location devoid of a lot of tall trees because they interfere with our satellite data collection from the ground. With its vast open areas and farm fields, Newark fit the bill nicely.”

Petersen said the satellite facility in Newark is one of many placed around the country to collect precipitation data from the clouds above. The GPM mission is being conducted by NASA in partnership with Japan’s national space agency. Next winter, the two agencies will launch a satellite that will orbit the earth collecting rainfall data for the entire globe.

“We’ve all seen the weather satellite images on the television news, but this will give us much more advanced information,” said Petersen. “The data collected will allow us to map ground radar and compare it with our satellite radar. The overall intent is to gain a better understanding of changing weather patterns and better predict storms, flooding and other natural disasters.”

Petersen said the core of the GPM mission is based at Wallops, making the Newark site a perfect location for the ground-based satellite facility. He said it should be up and running within a few days and the next step will be to install a security fence around the facility and add landscaping to shield it from view somewhat for residents and visitors. He said the facility will have little or no impact on residents in the area. Residents will be able to see the dish turning, but there will be little or no noise generated by the facility.