GOES-R – The Next Generation of Earth Observing Satellites

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates a fleet of geosynchronous equatorial satellites known as GOES. Since their first launch in 1974, GOES satellites have been a fundamental element of the U.S. weather monitoring and forecasting system. Procurement, design and manufacture of GOES spacecraft are overseen by NASA. The GOES system provides real-time imagery and environmental data to the public and scientists worldwide.

GOES satellites are equipped with imager and sounder instruments, which collect information from the Earth’s atmosphere and surface. The Imager detects infrared and visible reflected solar energy, while the sounder collects meteorological parameters such as surface and cloud top temperature, humidity, vertical atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles and ozone distribution.

In addition to delivering critical weather information, GOES is capable of broadcasting distress signals from people, ships or aircraft to search and rescue ground stations. GOES spacecraft also support communications with the International Space Station, providing high-resolution images of Earth’s surface and near-Earth orbit.

The GOES-R series is the latest generation of NOAA’s geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES). This new satellites will provide improved imagery and weather observation, including advanced detection of lightning activity, enhanced monitoring of atmospheric conditions and solar activities. It will also allow for better tracking of storms, which will improve weather forecasts and aid in search and rescue operations for people in peril.

GOES-R will be the first satellite series to feature the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), an instrument that provides three times more spectral channels, four times more resolution and five times faster scanning than previous GOES imaging systems. This will enable it to capture more images in less time, and at higher resolution, to give meteorologists more detail on rapidly evolving weather events. ABI is also able to detect solar flares that can disrupt communications, reduce navigational accuracy and affect satellites, high altitude airplanes and electricity power grids on Earth.

The GOES satellites are located in geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth’s equator, at a speed matching that of the Earth’s rotation. This keeps them in a fixed position in relation to the Earth’s surface. They can take pictures of the same area every 30 seconds and cover one hemisphere in a single pass.

The 14-satellite GOES fleet, which started with the launch of TIROS-1 in 1960 and ended with NOAA-19 on February 6, 2009, has a combined lifespan of 50 years. The GOES fleet of sensors has helped NOAA improve weather forecasting and helped save lives in the United States and around the world through enabling rescue efforts for stranded people, as well as aiding in disaster management and response. Each GOES satellite features two specialized instruments called the Imager and the Sounder, along with other supporting sensors such as a magnetometer, atmospheric sounder and radiometers. These satellites provide a continuous stream of images and data that can be accessed on the web through NOAA’s Data Access System, SPEDAS. A new GOES is launched every three years.