Anything Goes


The GOES series of geostationary environmental satellites is a key element in the National Weather Service’s operations. Since their launch in 1975, the GOES satellites have provided continuous imagery and data on atmospheric conditions and solar activity (space weather), and have helped in the search and rescue of people in distress. They also enable more accurate and timely weather forecasts and contribute to our understanding of long-term climate conditions. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration builds and launches the GOES, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates them.

The first two GOES satellites were spin stabilized, and provided only imaging and sounding data in two dimensions. The GOES-8 launch in April 1994 introduced the new three-axis body-stabilized satellites, which provided more data in all directions. The Imagers provide multichannel observations of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere in visible and infrared wavelengths, while the Sounders provide data on horizontal wind speed and direction, temperature and moisture profiles in the atmosphere, and ozone distribution. GOES-8 also began to relay the beacon signals from aircraft and marine vessels, so that their locations can be determined by the satellites and the distress alerts sent to the appropriate ground stations for immediate response.

Each satellite receives and processes environmental data from remote automatic Data Collection Platforms, or DCPs, that are located at and near the surface of the Earth. The onboard DCS (Data Collection System) then relays these messages to other satellites, to NOAA data processing centers and to other users via narrow-band WEFAX transmissions. The DCS on the GOES satellites can also receive direct transmissions of the distress beacon signals from aircraft and ships and relay them to the appropriate rescue authorities.

As the GOES series has progressed, new instrument packages have been added to improve its capabilities. For example, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) of GOES-16 offers images with three times more spectral channels, four times more spatial resolution and five times faster scanning than previous GOES. It can even detect regions of solar flares that could impact space-borne assets, such as high altitude commercial aircraft and power grids on the Earth.

The phrase “anything goes” was coined by the philosopher Paul Feyerabend, who argued that scientific progress does not occur through the strict rules of classical positivism and scientism. Scientific advancement, he said, occurs through human connections, chance happenings and personal choices. The premise behind his philosophy was that science should be open to whatever is beneficial for humanity, not closed off from the wild possibilities of theoretical anarchism.