Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) Monitor Earth’s Surface and Atmosphere

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) provide the Nation with a vital link to our planet. NOAA’s GOES satellites observe the Earth’s surface and atmosphere from a fixed location in space, hovering at an altitude of 22,236 miles above Earth’s equator. They monitor Earth-emitted and reflected radiation that provides information on atmospheric temperature, winds, moisture and cloud cover. The GOES satellites are constantly scanning and transmitting data to forecasters and environmental services.

NOAA’s GOES-16, GOES-17, and GOES-18 satellites all have an important role in protecting life and property by monitoring severe weather events, including thunderstorms, hurricanes, wildfires and volcanic ash plumes. The GOES-R Series, built by Lockheed Martin, also hosts a suite of instruments that improve detection of approaching space weather hazards which can interrupt power utilities, communication and navigation systems and affect orbiting satellites.

In addition to their role in detecting severe weather, GOES satellites have a long history of providing a wide variety of critical images of the Earth and its environment that have saved lives. Since their launch, GOES satellites have transmitted more than 4 billion images.

The first GOES satellite, launched in 1975, marked an important improvement over the previous generation of weather satellites. Two key technologies led to this advancement: three-axis stabilization of the satellite and separate optics for imaging and sounding. This enabled the sensors on board the GOES spacecraft to work simultaneously, capturing data about rapidly evolving events at a much higher resolution.

The latest satellites, the GOES-R Series, offer even greater improvements. The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) has three times more spectral channels and five times faster scanning than the previous generation of GOES satellites. The Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) and the Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS) are also aboard the GOES-R Series.

GOES is unique among all NOAA satellites in its ability to detect the atmospheric conditions that lead to tornadoes, flash floods, hailstorms and hazardous weather conditions generally. Because it is continuously observing a single spot above the Earth’s surface, GOES can provide a detailed picture of a hazardous event and its evolution over time.

GOES is often confused with its sister satellite, the Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES). Although POES and GOES share many common features, there are some differences between them. POES satellites have a much more limited orbit, and they cannot remain stationary above the same geographic area for long periods of time. Despite this, they can still provide an impressive amount of high-resolution imagery with their Large Swath Imager (LSI). The data from the LSI is used by NOAA forecasters to improve the accuracy of computer models used to predict weather conditions. The LSI also collects valuable data about the solar radiation that heats Earth’s atmosphere and reaches the planet’s surface, a fundamental part of the global climate system.