GOES, a geostationary operational environmental satellite program operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), circles the Earth in an orbit that allows them to remain in one position, providing constant monitoring of the planet. They take continuous images and soundings of the Earth’s atmosphere, providing data for severe weather evaluation, information on cloud cover, winds, ocean currents, fog distribution, storm circulation and snow melt. They also receive transmissions from free-floating balloons, buoys and remote automatic data collection stations around the world.
Unlike most other types of satellites, which are built by private companies and fly into space, GOES is the product of an international partnership. Its mission is to enhance operational services for the NOAA Weather Service and support atmospheric science research, numerical weather prediction models, and environmental sensor design and development.
The GOES fleet includes eight operational satellites, with two more in reserve. Each satellite provides global coverage and serves as a hub for satellite operations.
They are operated by NOAA, with support from NASA. GOES-1 was launched on October 16, 1975, followed by GOES-2 and GOES-3 in 1977 and 1978.
This generation of satellites, which are now in their second lifetime, were designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corporation. They are equipped with the Advanced Baseline Imager instrument, a magnetometer and an Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance sensor.
These instruments are responsible for detecting and monitoring solar flares, which can interfere with radio waves and satellite communications, as well as power grids and high-altitude aviation. They are used by the Space Environment Services Center to provide information for the Nation’s “space weather” services.
Thermal infrared radiation is emitted by everything on the planet that has a temperature higher than absolute zero, or -273 degrees C. The air, water vapor, and even the ground are emitters of this type of radiation. However, not all of it can reach the GOES satellites because oxygen, carbon dioxide, ozone, and methane in the atmosphere absorb long-wavelength infrared radiation. This means only the shorter wavelengths of infrared radiation can penetrate to their surfaces.
GOES-12, which was launched in July 2001, introduced an advanced spectral band imaging system. This new instrument has four times the resolution and five times the scanning speed of previous GOES satellites. It also provides a platform for the Solar X-Ray Imager (SXI) instrument that monitors large scale solar structures.
In addition to the ABI, GOES satellites carry several other instruments that collect imagery in the visible and infrared spectrums of the Earth’s atmosphere. The Extreme Ultraviolet Irradiance Sensor and X-ray Irradiance Sensor are important for solar-terrestrial observations, and the Solar X-Ray Imager is a platform for the STARS instrument onboard GOES-12 and above.
Another primary instrument, the Extreme Ultraviolet Irradiance SENSOR, was added to the GOES constellation in 2007. Its advanced technology allows it to detect and monitor solar flares, which can damage satellites, high-altitude aviation and power grids.
The GOES constellation is controlled by the Space Weather and Satellite Control Center at the NOAA Weather Service headquarters in Suitland, Maryland. The center is staffed by scientists and meteorologists who monitor the satellites’ performance and coordinate their use during storms.