The GOES-R Series of Satellites Monitor Earth’s Surface and Atmosphere


Go is a strategy game played by two players. Each player places one of 181 black and 180 white stones (called go-ishi) on a square wooden board (goban) checkered by 19 vertical lines and 19 horizontal lines to form 361 intersections. The goal is to conquer territory by completely enclosing the points of intersection with boundary walls of your own stones. Go has a long history, starting in ancient China and then gaining popularity in Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), where it was adopted as a game for warriors in the samurai class. It continued to flourish in modern Japan and spread worldwide after World War II.

The GOES program began in 1975 with the launch of SMS-1, an experimental satellite that was able to monitor weather conditions from a fixed location in geosynchronous orbit (more than 22,240 miles above Earth). The SMS-1 satellite used three different instruments: a visible light sensor, a solar radiometer and an atmospheric sounder. The solar radiometer measured the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth and the atmosphere, while the visible light sensor captured the Sun’s reflected radiation that appears in images. The atmospheric sounder derived the temperature, pressure and wind speed of the upper atmosphere.

Several improvements were made to the satellite design and instrument capabilities with each subsequent satellite. In 1994, the GOES-I satellite marked a significant leap forward with advances in both the imager and sounder. Its three-axis stabilization allowed the imager and sounder to work at the same time, providing much more timely and accurate information. This was a major improvement over the previous generation of GOES satellites that had to alternate between imaging and sounding.

In addition to delivering improved data, the GOES-R series has expanded its scope to provide forecasters with an enhanced view of severe storms, hurricanes and other environmental hazards across the continental United States and western half of the globe. The series also hosts a suite of instruments that improve detection of space weather hazards such as solar eruptions and changes in the magnetic field that can disrupt power utilities and communication systems, as well as cause damage to orbiting satellites.

The GOES-R series, built by Lockheed Martin, consists of four satellites. The first two, GOES-16 and GOES-17, serve as NOAA’s GOES East and GOES West satellites, respectively. The next satellite, GOES-S, will be a backup to GOES-16, and the final satellite in the GOES-R series, GOES-18, is scheduled to be launched in 2024. GOES-18 will become NOAA’s primary geostationary weather satellite over the Pacific Ocean. Until it enters service, each GOES-R satellite is designated with a letter before its launch and then will be assigned a number once in geostationary orbit. This video features some of the most significant events that GOES-16 and GOES-17 have observed in their respective areas of responsibility since its launch in 2016.