The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) have been providing imagery and data on atmospheric conditions, solar activity, and Earth’s weather systems for over 40 years. These spacecraft, designated by a letter before launch and renamed once they reach geostationary orbit, are designed to continuously monitor broad areas of the Western Hemisphere from 22,300 miles above the Earth’s equator. In addition, GOES can also detect distress signals from aircraft and marine vessels to relay them to the appropriate ground stations for search and rescue.
NOAA’s GOES satellites are operated as part of a joint program with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA manages the design, procurement, and launch of the satellite and its instruments, while NOAA is responsible for operating the system in orbit.
The GOES system began operations with the launch of the first GOES satellite in 1975, named GOES-A on an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral. GOES-A was the first of a series of satellites called the SMS (Synchronous Meteorological Satellite) series, all spin stabilized and carrying a Visible Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer (VISSR), Space Environment Monitor (SEM), and a Data Collection System (DCS).
Each GOES satellite has two DCS transponders that can be active or backup depending on conditions. Each GOES spacecraft transmits its DCS data to the NOAA/NESDIS DCS ground receive system CDA (Command and Data Acquisition Station) at Wallops Island, Virginia. CDA receives the DCS transmissions on a set of dedicated RF channels in both the S-band and UHF-band, and passes them to the NOAA/NESDIS DCS automatic processing system DAPS at HQ.
The DAPS system processes the data from all of the GOES sensors, and provides the data to NOAA’s National Weather Service forecasters. The information is used to develop accurate and timely weather forecasts, as well as a variety of other products.
Most of the data on a GOES satellite comes from its sensors, which are able to detect various types of radiation that are reflected off of clouds or the Earth’s surface. GOES sensors detect visible light, infrared light, and electromagnetic energy from the Sun. The data enables meteorologists to identify cloud type, track storm movement, and forecast severe weather. In addition, GOES observations of the Earth’s atmosphere provide critical information about solar activity and space weather that is essential to long-term climate monitoring.
The GOES-R series of four satellites will extend the availability of the GOES system into 2036. GOES-18 is currently being readied to replace the aging GOES-17 satellite at 89.5 degrees west in GEO. Once GOES-18 completes its initial tests, it will be accelerated to the GOES-West slot to occupy in early 2023.