GOES Satellites Improve Weather Forecasting and Improve Aviation Safety

The GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) program provides National Weather Service forecasters with critical data to better monitor hazardous conditions and improve aviation safety. The system uses instruments that measure Earth-emitted and reflected radiation from which atmospheric temperature, winds, moisture, and cloud cover can be determined. The procurement, design and manufacture of the spacecraft, as well as the satellite operations and distribution of data, is overseen by NOAA.

The first GOES satellite, launched in 1975, was a spin-stabilized instrument with a fixed viewing angle that provided two-dimensional images of the surface. Using an infrared scanning radiometer, the satellite could detect and report surface temperatures, cloud heights and motions, and other meteorological information. Eventually the satellite was upgraded to include a space environment monitor with a solar X-ray imager, which could identify flares and coronal mass ejections, and provide advance warning of disturbances in the upper atmosphere that can trigger spectacular aurora displays, or lead to power outages.

NOAA’s GOES-R series of geostationary satellites, which began launching in 2016, is the third generation of GOES instruments. The new satellites are able to produce 10-minute full disk imagery, which will provide a significant improvement in operational data availability. Ten-minute imagery will also allow the NOAA Satellite Operations Center to more rapidly respond to hazardous conditions, such as volcanic activity generating an ash plume.

An onboard data collection system (DCS) relays environmental data transmissions from remote, automatic Data Collection Platforms (DCPs). DCS is designed to detect and communicate with DCPs within its radio view of a GOES satellite, sending them a signal that indicates when its event condition has reached a pre-set value. When the DCP receives a DCS interrogate signal, it can transmit its own environmental data transmission in response.

GOES-16 and -17 can also detect fires on the ground by looking for the characteristic thermal infrared signature of burning vegetation. This information can be used to help forecast when the fire will begin to spread, as well as to provide fire managers with real-time fire boundaries displayed on Google Maps.

Other GOES satellites carry instruments that can detect solar X-rays and other indicators of solar activity, which can impact weather patterns and cause power outages on the ground and in aircraft. These satellites can also track volcanic activity, detect ash plumes from erupting volcanoes and provide other vital meteorological information to aviation and coastal weather forecasters.

NOAA’s GOES data is available for free, as are many tools to manipulate and display it. For example, the NASA GOES-16 Satellite Imagery page has several sectors and animations, as does the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s GOES-R Satellite page with a number of Sectors and Full Disks and their GLM and SUVI Animations. GOES imagery is also available in Google Earth, the GEONETCast Americas page, and the CIMSS Tropical page with multiple bands and overlays.