GOES Satellites Provide Real-Time Weather Information


The word go can describe movement in a variety of ways: to move from one place to another, as in going to school on the bus or traveling to India on an airplane; to continue doing something, as in going to work every day or going back to class after a break; and to advance, as in going forward with plans or going to school to learn more. It can also be used to indicate time passing, as in when a month goes by, or to compare things, as in strawberries and apples go well together in a pie. The verb can even mean to change from one state or condition to another, as in going crazy or going bad. The most common use of the word is to proceed, though it can be used to refer to anything that changes from a previous state or condition: to go up in value or quality, as in a stock going up; to change direction, as in going from an office job to a law firm; or to end, as in a relationship ending.

The National Weather Service requires real-time, high-quality, geostationary weather satellite data to protect people and property. Launched in 1975, the GOES series of satellites, which are now operational, provides such information by continuously scanning the Earth for weather events.

Each GOES satellite is operated in a geosynchronous orbit about 22,300 miles above the Earth. A series of solar-powered transmitters sends the satellite to a position that matches the Earth’s rotation, staying in the same spot in the sky over the continental United States and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The GOES satellites have multiple instruments that measure Earth-emitted and reflected radiation to detect atmospheric temperature, winds, moisture and cloud cover. The Imager, which identifies cloud type and size, is the most important. The Sounder instrument, which determines vertical atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles, is important for forecasting hurricanes and other severe storms.

GOES satellites are monitored and controlled from the NOAA Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. Each GOES satellite has an on-orbit spare, the current GOES-15, which can be activated to provide back-up weather information in case one of the primary GOES East or GOES West spacecraft experiences technical difficulties.

The next generation of GOES satellites, GOES-16 and GOES-S, are scheduled for launch in 2018. Once the GOES-16 spacecraft is fully operational, it will replace a GOES satellite that currently provides backup for GOES-16 and can be activated to provide full coverage to the entire U.S. The GOES-S satellite will feature a suite of new instrumentation including the Solar X-ray Imager and Space Environment Monitoring (SEM) to provide more information for severe storms, fires, volcanoes and the Arctic. The GOES-S satellite will also offer direct broadcast of imagery and other data through its GOES-R Relay Service and High Rate Information Transmission/Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (HRIT/EMWIN). The satellites will have enough fuel to remain operational for at least ten years, in case they need to stay in orbit longer than expected.