For decades, the geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES) have delivered critical information for weather forecasting and other mission areas. Now, the Lockheed Martin-built GOES-R series offers orders of magnitude greater spatial and temporal resolution than the legacy GOES spacecraft. In April, GOES-16 and GOES-17 Advanced Baseline Imagers began operating in a new 10-minute “flex mode,” providing full-disk imagery every 10 minutes instead of 15 or 30 seconds. The faster temporal cadence will allow GOES to monitor conditions that might pose hazards to aviation, such as volcanic ash plumes and rapidly moving clouds.
Geostationary orbit allows GOES to keep a constant watch over the same area of Earth, allowing meteorologists to spot atmospheric “triggers” that lead to severe weather events such as tornadoes, flash floods and hail storms. This vigilance helps National Weather Service forecasters keep track of dangerous conditions, which can impact communities around the world and drive commerce and travel.
The first geostationary weather satellite, GOES-1, was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1975. It quickly became a vital part of the National Weather Service’s operations, ensuring that local communities have the information they need to make decisions to stay safe.
Since that time, GOES has grown into a complex fleet of satellites, specializing in a wide range of weather-related applications. As the fleet continues to expand, a new generation of satellites is poised to provide even better images and data on a more frequent basis.
This new generation of GOES satellites is the GOES-R series, consisting of four spacecraft. Two of these are currently operational: GOES-16 in the East position, and GOES-17 in the West position. The final satellite in the GOES-R series, GOES-18 (formerly known as GOES-T) will undergo on-orbit checkouts before formally replacing GOES-17 as the GOES-West satellite in early 2023.
Each of these new GOES-R spacecraft are designed to operate for seven years, though they were built with excess fuel to allow them to operate beyond this expected lifespan if needed. In addition to the three GOES-R satellites currently in operation, two of their second-generation counterparts, GOES-10 and -11, are still operating at the end of their scheduled lifespans.
In the future, the GOES-R series will be expanded to include additional instruments to improve the monitoring of other environmental phenomena. For example, a third generation satellite that would be equipped with a VIIRS instrument could provide improved observations of the Arctic.
The GOES-R program is managed by NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology in partnership with NASA. This partnership enables the agency to take advantage of the best scientific and technological achievements from each agency, and to deliver the most valuable weather products possible to the public.
The GOES-R website provides access to data, information and images from the GOES-16 and -17 satellites, as well as their legacy predecessors, GOES-10 and -11. The website is maintained on a volunteer basis by Tim Schmit and should not be used for any operational observation, forecasting, emergency management or other disaster mitigation or response activities.