GOES – The Backbone of Weather Forecasting

GOES, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, is a series of weather satellites that have formed the backbone of short-term weather forecasting in the United States since 1974. GOES satellites occupy fixed positions in geosynchronous orbit, 35,790 kilometres (22,236 miles) above Earth’s equator, to continuously monitor the same geographic region.

Each satellite is equipped with several sophisticated instruments. For example, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) is able to identify radiation upwelling from Earth at specific wavelengths. The ABI instrument can then combine data from multiple channels in a variety of ways to create imagery that approximates what a human eye would see from space – a technique called “GeoColor.” The ABI data also provides information about three properties that determine how much sunlight the Earth receives. The first, cloud top height, is the altitude corresponding to a particular cloud’s surface. The second property is cloud thickness, which measures the size of a cloud. The third is cloud optical depth, which indicates how the density of a cloud affects the amount of sunlight it reflects or absorbs.

These characterizations help meteorologists track the growth of severe thunderstorms, winter storms, flash floods, and hurricanes and provide warnings about them. The GOES system can also detect and monitor the development of wildfires, clouds, and aerosols, and the movement of air masses across our planet’s surface and into its atmosphere.

During the past few weeks, the GOES-18 satellite has observed a wide range of weather events and breathtaking views of our home planet. During the week of August 5, a severe thunderstorm spawned large hail and damaging winds over east Texas and tornadoes in New Mexico. During the week of September 10, fog covered parts of Chile in South America and a fire swept through the rainforest of western Amazonia, while a polar vortex formed and brought record low temperatures to northwestern Europe.

The upcoming GOES-R series of satellites will deliver improved latency and full hemispheric coverage with reduced dependency on ground segments, enabling NOAA to more rapidly detect and observe environmental phenomena that directly impact the nation’s public safety and protection of property and our economic well-being. The next-generation GOES-R satellites will employ innovative sensor technology, and will be designed to meet evolving user needs for real-time atmospheric, hydrologic, oceanographic, solar and space weather data.

NOAA is working closely with NASA on the design and development of the GOES-R spacecraft and its sensors at the co-located Program and Project Offices at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. The GOES-R Program is managed by NOAA of DOC, which establishes requirements and funding for the spacecraft series and its sensor complement.

The GOES-R program is an ambitious undertaking of decadal dimension. It requires the design of a new series of spacecraft and its sensors, new operating procedures, a new generation of ground systems, and new operational techniques, all driven by state-of-the-art technology, demanding user requirements, and available funding resources. The STAR website hosts examples of ongoing experimental products to demonstrate the capabilities of the new spacecraft and its sensors.