The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, known as GOES, are critical to NOAA’s mission of providing the public with weather and other environmental data. These satellites circle 22,236 miles above Earth’s equator and maintain their positions over specific geographic regions, improving detection of environmental phenomena that directly impact public safety, property, and our nation’s economic health and prosperity.
The National Weather Service relies on GOES for continuous, reliable and high-quality weather observations to provide the information necessary to make the best decisions about people, property and infrastructure. The GOES-R Series of satellites will continue this important work, offering real-time imagery and meteorological data that are vital to the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the quality of life through the provision of accurate, timely and useful information and products.
GOES satellites contain instruments that measure Earth-emitted and reflected radiation, from which atmospheric temperature, wind speed, moisture and cloud cover can be determined. The satellites also track storm fronts, provide lightning observations, monitor the arctic atmosphere, and observe solar activity. They provide the information needed to support a variety of forecasting and monitoring activities, including severe weather watches and warnings, meteorological research and numerical weather prediction models, and environmental sensor design and development.
The Imager and Sounder instruments are the primary instruments on the GOES satellites. The Imager provides a view of the Earth’s surface and its clouds, while the Sounder monitors atmospheric motions and provides meteorological parameters such as pressure, temperature, winds and water vapor. The GOES satellites also contain other instrument packages such as the Space Environment Monitor (SEM) which is used to identify and monitor solar activity that may potentially threaten space-borne or ground-based assets and the Solar X-ray Imager (SXI).
All of the GOES satellites are built by Lockheed Martin for NOAA, under contract with NASA. The GOES-13 and -16 satellites carry the COSPAS-SARSAT system, which detects the signals sent by 406 MHz emergency beacons on airplanes, ships and individuals during searches and rescue missions and relays this information to rescuers. GOES-13 and -16 are also equipped with the Space Environment Monitoring (SEM) package developed by NOAA’s Space Environment Center, in Boulder, Colorado.
The GOES satellites are controlled by NOAA’s Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. During significant events or emergencies, a GOES satellite’s regular schedule can be altered to monitor more regions or provide special observations. The GOES-15 satellite has a solar array with eight 16-panels, and is designed to be the first in a new generation of GOES satellites that will have an operational lifespan of ten years.