GOES Satellites Monitor Earth’s Weather Conditions

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A satellite devoted to monitoring the Earth’s weather conditions is called a GOES (Geosynchronous Orbiting Environmental Satellite) satellite. The first GOES satellite was launched in 1974, and since then the system of geosynchronous equatorial orbiting weather satellites has become an essential element of U.S. meteorological operations. GOES satellites provide essential information for forecasting, tracking and monitoring hazardous weather conditions, such as thunderstorms, lightning, snowstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires.

Each GOES satellite is equipped with two payload instruments, the GOES Imager and GOES Sounder. The Imager is a multichannel imaging instrument that provides real-time imagery of the Earth, while the Sounder is a 19-channel radiometer that senses emitted thermal energy and reflected solar energy to calculate vertical atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles. In addition, the GOES Sounder also monitors ozone and nitrous oxide.

The GOES 2nd generation series, GOES-R and GOES-T, are equipped with an Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), which provides three times more spectral channels and five times faster scanning than the previous Imager. ABI is augmented by the Space Environment Monitor (SEM), which senses the near-Earth solar-terrestrial electromagnetic environment and transmits real-time data to NOAA National Weather Service offices and Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers. SEM is equipped with an Energy Particle Sensor (EPS), High Energy Proton and Alpha Particle Detector (HEPAD) and magnetometer.

Besides monitoring storms and fires, the satellites track temperature fronts, estimate precipitation during thunderstorms and hurricanes for flash flood warnings and snowfall accumulation for winter storm and snow melt advisories. The satellites’ sensors also map ice fields and observe the movement of sea and lake ice.

Because a GOES satellite stays above a fixed point on the Earth, it can continually watch for atmospheric “triggers” that can lead to severe weather conditions, such as the formation of thunderstorms, tropical cyclones, tornadoes and fires. The satellites also provide images of the Earth at night and in inclement weather, and monitor conditions such as ocean surface winds and arctic air mass patterns.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oversees the development and operation of the GOES satellite system, while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration manages the procurement, design and manufacture of the spacecraft and its instruments, and launches the satellites into orbit. After completing an on-orbit checkout, NOAA assumes responsibility for the satellites. The GOES satellites are monitored and controlled by NOAA’s Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. The GOES-3 and -4 satellites have an expected lifespan of three years, while the -5, -6 and -7 satellites are designed to operate for five years and will carry enough fuel to continue operating beyond that time, should the need arise.