The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES)


The geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES) provide meteorologists with continuous weather data. They monitor large areas of the Earth from a fixed position in space, hovering 35,790 km (22,240 mi) above the surface and continuously scanning regions of the continental United States, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Central America and South America, as well as parts of Canada. GOES data helps meteorologists detect atmospheric “triggers” that lead to severe local storms and hurricanes.

GOES uses instruments onboard to observe Earth-emitted and reflected radiation from which atmospheric temperature, wind speed, water vapor and cloud coverage can be determined. These observations are critical to the National Weather Service, as well as electric power networks, radio wave communication systems, astronauts on the International Space Station, high-altitude aviators and other users of solar-terrestrial data.

For example, the GOES satellites can detect ozone in the atmosphere and measure greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. They also collect data on solar flares and geomagnetic storms, and send data to the National Space Environment Services Center.

In addition to meteorological information, GOES collects satellite images of the Earth that are used for things like navigation, agriculture and communications. They can capture images of storms as they develop or pass through the country, and show how they’re progressing, such as when a tornado is about to touch down. The data can also be used to forecast the location and intensity of future storms.

GOES satellites have been in operation since 1975. The GOES fleet currently comprises 14 satellites, each with a lifespan of up to six years. The first two satellites were named GOES-A and GOES-B, followed by GOES-C through GOES-F. When GOES-11 was launched in February 2009, it marked the end of the first generation of GOES satellites. The next-generation GOES satellites, named GOES-16 through GOES-18, have an expected lifespan of seven years, although they will be launched with enough fuel to keep operating for ten years, just in case.

In April 2019, the GOES-16 and -17 satellites started using a new flex mode which increases the frequency of full disk images to every 10 minutes for CONUS scans and two mesoscale domains, and every 15 minutes for PACUS scans. During the transition period from the old to the new flex mode, full disk and mesoscale imagery will be interleaved.

Several websites host GOES-R data, and most of the images are available in NetCDF or FITS formats. Some of these sites include: