20111027 space weathersatellite
Artist's conception of the NPP climate and weather satellite in orbit. The Outernet project looks to use satellites like this to deliver the contents of the internet globally. - 

Steve Chiotakis: Just a couple of hours ago, NASA launched a new $1.5 billion weather satellite from the California coast. The new equipment will
help predict and even mitigate the cost of extreme weather events. Knowing more -- farther ahead of time -- could bring the eventual costs of those disasters down.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: Compared to a huge space shuttle launch, a weather satellite doesn't look so impressive, says Andrew Carson at NASA.

Andrew Carson: It's about 14.5 feet long, so it's equivalent to a medium-sized SUV.

But the data that humble satellite transmits is invaluable, says scientist Mitch Goldberg at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. His lab calculated weather forecasts without satellites. Remember when "snowmageddon" dumped more than two feet of snow on the East Coast? Without satellite data...

Mitch Goldberg: The forecast was only seven to 10 inches of snow. So you can imagine what the big economic impact of that would be. You wouldn't be able to plan days in advance on how to mitigate a severe snow event.

In addition to weather patterns, the satellite also carries new technology to measure land and sea temperature, ozone levels, crop productivity and more. All that data is offered free to the public. And it's used to do everything from predicting droughts and disease outbreaks to coming up with insurance rates.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

Follow Eve Troeh at @evetroeh