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New Satellite System Empowers Poor Nations


A new satellite system will give the world's poorest countries unprecedented access to environmental and health data from a globe straddling network of satellites and weather stations.

The new system is relatively inexpensive and easy to use, and should help managers in remote corners of the world to respond more effectively to natural disasters and epidemics.

Donald Hinsman, director of the Space Program Office of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says global access to satellite data has taken a giant step forward with the creation of the new satellite data network, dubbed GEONETCast. "Five years ago some of the countries in Africa were receiving their [weather] data by teletype. Now they are receiving 12 megabits per second."

WMO, the United States, China and European countries jointly developed GEONETCast. Mikael Rattenborg, director of the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, says it will have global coverage and getting started requires little technical expertise or money. "All you need is a personal computer and satellite reception system which cost around $500."

GEONETCast streams information from ground-based laboratories and space-based satellites. Users have access to everything from airport runway data to information on air and water quality and ocean conditions. The high-tech tools give managers a real-time picture of rapidly evolving events.

Mikael Rattenborg says such timely information can be a critically important tool for managing water resources, predicting food shortages, and delivering forecasts on the likelihood of malaria and disease outbreaks. "The data provided on GEONETCast will be provided directly to the decision-makers to support them."

Countries with little or no technical infrastructure can take advantage the new system. WMO's Donald Hinsman says training, spearheaded by the United States and Europe, is an important component for the success of the project. "We have linked together centers of excellence in virtual laboratories where we do training on a continuous basis using high technology."

GEONETCast is the cornerstone of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, an international effort to establish coordinated earth observations from thousands of instruments worldwide. GEONETCast is expected to begin operations in 2007.