GOES Satellites and Their Applications

The GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) system supports National Weather Service severe storm tracking and monitoring as well as meteorology research. The GOES program is a partnership between NOAA and NASA. NOAA manages the satellite operation while NASA oversees the design, development and launch of each spacecraft. There are also a number of geostationary satellites operated by other nations which contribute to the coverage provided by GOES.

GOES satellites feature imaging and sounding instruments which provide continuous images of Earth at day or night and sound the atmosphere to determine its structure and characteristics. These measurements are used for a wide variety of applications including severe storm tracking, air quality forecasting and volcanic ash advisory monitoring.

In addition to the imagers and sounders, GOES provides radar data, surface wind information, and other data to support local weather forecasting offices and national centers. The system is critical for aviation safety since GOES satellites can quickly identify hazardous conditions such as clouds, thunderstorms and fog.

Several newer technologies have been introduced with each new GOES satellite launched. GOES-I (launched in 1994) brought real improvements in the quantity and continuity of the data received with advancements in two areas: three-axis stabilization of the spacecraft and separate optics for imaging and sounding. This allowed the imager and sounder to operate simultaneously to provide a more detailed picture of the storm.

The GOES-R series, which includes GOES-13 through GOES-16, represents a major leap in capability with the addition of the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). ABI is a revolutionary sensor that provides images and data with unprecedented speed, clarity and resolution. It provides weather forecasters with the ability to monitor cloud formation and movement, atmospheric motion, convection and moisture across the continental United States. ABI is able to produce full disk images of the western hemisphere every 15 minutes and the continent every five minutes. Additionally, it is able to track a specific storm area in about 60 seconds.

Other instruments on the GOES-R satellites include the Solar Ultraviolet and Coronal Diagnostics Package (SEC), which monitors the spectral emissions of gases such as NO, O2, NO2 and SO2 that are related to atmospheric ozone depletion, global climate change and air pollution; the Space Environment Monitor (SEM), which detects solar flares and their effects on Earth and other solar system bodies; and the Heliospheric Electrodynamics Particle Analysis System (HEPAD) to detect the extremely high energy protons and alpha particles created in large solar flares and to continuously monitor galactic cosmic rays.

GOES-R series satellites are also equipped with a data transmission system, which is used to relay environmental data transmissions from remote Automatic Data Collection Platforms, free-floating buoys and remote NOAA weather stations. This data is transmitted to the GOES DCS, which then retransmits it to properly equipped receiving stations that are within radio view of the satellite. The DCS is also capable of relaying distress signals from people, aircraft or marine vessels to Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking stations (S&RSAT). The GOES-R satellites also feature the capability for data retransmission in the S-band.