NOAA Satellite Information System

Frequently Asked Questions About NOAA Satellites
and NOAA Satellite Pictures and Data


Q:   How can I get satellite pictures of my house, my town, or some area so I can see buildings, streets, and similar details?
A:   NOAA cannot provide these pictures. The NOAA satellites cannot provide this detail. These satellites were designed for observing weather systems and similar large features. See a sample image of the typical detail and resolution provided by NOAA satellites. The smallest distance the NOAA satellites can resolve is 1 kilometer (a little more than 1/2 mile) under the best conditions. Very detailed satellite images usually must be obtained from commercial sources, for a fee. These would include, but are not limited to Space Imaging, Orbimage, SPOT Image, and others. Some very detailed satellite images over the United States can be found on the Terra Server.  [NOAA does not endorse these suppliers or the content of their sites.]

Q:   Where can I get satellite pictures of hurricanes, storms, floods and similar events?
A:   There are many web sites that have satellite pictures, although some of the pictures, especially at commercial sites, may be copyrighted. NOAA has several sites with satellite and weather related pictures, including the National Climatic Data Center, and NOAA Library. The most recent, up-to-date images from the NOAA GOES satellites are on the the GOES server and the OSPO Tropical Storm Floaters.

Q:   Can I use NOAA satellite pictures on my web site, in books or other publications, educational materials, or on television?
A:   Yes, depending on where you get the pictures. If you get satellite pictures from a NOAA site, or generally any other U.S. Federal government site, these pictures are from NOAA. As such, they can be used if you give credit to NOAA as the source of the picture. No other fee or permission is needed other than a credit. If you find a picture on a NOAA or other government site that has a credit for that picture to some person or organization other than NOAA, you CANNOT use it without permission of that person or organization. Commercial web sites (such as television stations, The Weather Channel, Intellicast, Accu-Weather, Kavouras-DTN, etc.) may have pictures from the NOAA satellites. The pictures have been modified by these organizations and are now copyrighted property; you cannot use them without express permission of the owner. Pictures you receive directly from a satellite with your own receiving equipment can be used with a credit to NOAA. More information may be found at

Q:   Can I see the NOAA satellites?
A:   Yes, but they are faint (about magnitude 5.5 at their brightest). The NOAA polar orbiting satellites are approximately 500 statute miles above the Earth, are relatively small (not as large as the Space Shuttle, for example), and not very reflective. If you have a good viewing location away from large cities, where the Milky Way would be visible for instance, you can try to spot the NOAA satellites. The Heavens-Above web site can produce spotting information for any location worldwide. The GOES geostationary satellites are about 23,000 statute miles above the Equator and would require a telescope.

Q:   When do the NOAA satellites pass over my area?
A:   There are at least three web sites that interactively show the current location of the satellites, and what they are viewing. Try the NASA JTrack site, Heavens-Above in Germany, or the Earth Viewer

Q:   I do research that requires NOAA satellite data. How do I obtain these data?
A:   Most users can get the data they require from the NOAA Comprehensive Large Array-data Stewardship System (CLASS). The CLASS is an interactive search tool to find the data you need, and once the data sets have been retrieved, they can be downloaded from the CLASS ftp site. Small digital data sets are free.

Q:   Can I receive NOAA satellite data directly from the satellite?
A:   Yes. There are some satellite imagery services that can be received directly from the satellite using relatively simple, low-cost equipment. Many schools and private individuals are among those receiving data directly from the NOAA satellites. Consult our brief overview of the types of satellite direct readout data services. We also have a list of manufacturers of various types of receiving equipment used to receive NOAA satellite data.

Q:   What frequency is used by the NOAA satellites to transmit data?
A:   The GOES satellites transmit data on 1691 and 1685.7 MHz. The NOAA polar orbiters use frequencies in the 137-138 and 1698-1707 MHz bands. For the latest frequency information, see our Status page.

Q:   I need a book on how to interpret satellite imagery and data. Can NOAA send me one?
A:   Such books are available commercially from scholarly and university publishers. NOAA does not publish such general references and text books, or collections of interesting or unusual satellite pictures.

Q:   I need to calibrate NOAA AVHRR data. Where can I get the publication "Technical Memorandum NESS 107, Data Extraction and Calibration of TIROS-N?NOAA Radiometers" edited by W. Planet?
A:   NESS 107 is obsolete and no longer available. When originally published, NESS 107 was widely distributed to government meteorological agencies worldwide, university atmospheric science departments, and technical organizations involved in satellite remote sensing. You may find access to copies of this publication at such organizations in your area. However, NESS 107 has been replaced by the NOAA-KLM User's Guide available on the Internet. All the calibration information that was in NESS 107 has been updated and now appears in the new Guide.

Q:   Where can I get NOAA instrument calibration coefficients?
A:   For NOAA-14 and earlier satellites, calibration coefficients are available on the web site (the NOAASIS). Beginning with NOAA-15, calibration information is contained in Chapter 7 and Appendix-D of the NOAA-KLM User's Guide.

Q:   Where do I get current NOAA satellite orbital elements?
A:   Two types of orbital elements are available. The NASA (or NORAD) Two Line Elements (TLEs) are not generated by NOAA, and can be retrieved from the Celestrak web site. The NOAA TBUS elements are available on this web site, on the Navigation page.

Q:   Where do I get old satellite elements?
A:   Older Two Line Elements can be found in the Celestrak archive. An archive of NOAA TBUS messages beginning in 1998 is available on the NOAASIS, while an archive of TBUS files going back many years can be found at the Tokyo University anonymous ftp site. Contact us for other TBUS files you cannot find at these sites.


Satellite Products and Services Division
Direct Services Branch
Phone: 301-817-4521/4523
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Mailing Address:
1315 East-West Hwy
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282     USA