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NOAA adopts technology to automate weather balloon launches

NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) has announced that it has begun demonstrating new automated technology to launch weather balloons. According to NOAA, the new technology will help reduce the costs and time it takes to launch balloons and will help overcome current staffing issues.

NOAA has been testing the new technology for the past two years in Kodiak, Alaska, and has now initiated demonstrations of the so-called ‘auto-launchers’ in two of the state’s 13 upper-air sites. Annette, Alaska, will receive an auto-launch system this month (May 2018). The technology will be installed across the state’s remaining 10 sites over the next two years.

“Alaska is ideal for demonstrating the use of auto-launch technology, especially in the remote areas where it’s tough to recruit and retain staff to perform manual launches,” said Louis W Uccellini, director of NOAA’s NWS. “We’ll reinvest this time saving back into Alaskan communities with more important weather forecasting and decision-support duties – no one will lose their job to this automation.”

Harsh conditions and vast distances between upper-air sites make manual launches particularly expensive and time-consuming. Auto-launchers in Alaska will bring other unique benefits. Automation ensures that NOAA can achieve all the scheduled launches, some of which are currently skipped due to staffing shortages. NOAA anticipates a US$20m cost saving over the 20-year life of the equipment by switching to auto-launchers in Alaska. - May 2018

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