GOES Satellites


The GOES satellites provide data about the Earth’s surface from space. They are equipped with an array of environmental sensors, a recorder, and an antenna. The instruments operate on a schedule that allows them to scan a specific area in the western hemisphere on a regular basis. The data are gathered and transmitted on specific GOES channels.

The first GOES satellite was launched in 1976. The next five were built by Space Systems/Loral under contract with NASA. The ITT Aerospace/Communication Division produced the imagers and sounders for the satellites. The first two GOES satellites were designed to operate for three years, while GOES-10 and GOES-12 were designed to last five years. In addition, GOES-11 and GOES-12 carried enough fuel for a decade of operations.

GOES operates in geostationary orbit and provides continuous images of the continental United States, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, as well as South America, Central America, and southern Canada. Its three-axis body-stabilized design allows it to more quickly image clouds and monitor Earth’s surface temperature. It also provides real-time coverage of tropical cyclones and severe local storms.

GOES data are vital for the short-term forecasting and monitoring of weather conditions. The National Environmental Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) distributes the data to operational and research centers around the world. Many government agencies, universities, and commercial weather services use the data from GOES. Researchers worldwide rely on GOES data to help make decisions on weather patterns.

GOES satellites are designed to observe the Earth’s surface during daylight hours. They detect the reflected light from clouds and water vapor in the atmosphere. This information enables meteorologists to track the movement of clouds and provide early warning of severe weather. GOES images also provide images of Earth’s unclouded areas.

The GOES satellites have a long legacy of image collection. They orbit at about 520 miles above Earth and complete 14 orbits per day. This means that GOES satellites can provide daily global coverage for weather forecasting. Their instruments include the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). The first AVHRR satellite, TIROS-1, launched in 1960. Later, the AVHRR was replaced by a five-channel radiometer.

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