The GOES Weather Satellites


Since 1975, NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series has provided continuous imagery and data on atmospheric conditions and solar activity, helping forecasters predict weather and climate changes. It has also been used to aid in search and rescue efforts worldwide.

The GOES series of weather satellites is operated by NOAA as a joint program, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) providing the spacecraft. Each GOES satellite is designated with a letter prior to launch and renamed with a number once it achieves its geostationary orbit, which means it circles the Earth at a speed that matches the Earth’s rotation.

GOES-1, launched in 1975, was the first of the GOES series and was the first weather satellite to capture observations of cloud, wind and temperature measurements from a fixed location. It was a precursor to the later generation of GOES satellites and provided important information for forecasters who could view clouds in 3D and determine their temperatures and altitudes.

As time went on, more remarkable firsts were achieved, including GOES-2 and GOES-3 which provided meteorologists with the first near-real-time images of clouds and their changing conditions. GOES-4 launched in 1980 was the first to use the Visible Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer (VISSR) to provide information about cloud and air temperature, allowing meteorologists to see a three-dimensional picture of weather events that could lead to more accurate forecasts.

From GOES-5 through GOES-8, improvements in technology led to a generation of GOES spacecraft that captured much higher resolution imaging and sounding data, enabling forecasters to better pinpoint the locations of storms and other intense weather phenomena. GOES-8 also introduced the Image Navigation and Registration subsystem which uses geographic landmarks and star locations to help forecasters better understand the intensity of severe storms.

Another major breakthrough was the development of the GOES I-M series of satellites which were the first to have separate optics for imaging and sounding, enabling both instruments to be used at the same time and thus improve continuity of the information they gathered. This enabled the satellites to continuously obtain both images and sounding data and allowed GOES to focus on a small area of quickly evolving weather events, increasing their accuracy and enhancing short-term forecasts.

The GOES I-M series was followed by the GOES 9- 12 spacecraft, which were successfully launched between 1994 and 2001. They continued to develop advanced technology, incorporating a new generation of three-axis body-stabilized spacecraft and a unique imaging and sounding subsystem.

These innovations were critical for improving the accuracy and continuity of GOES data, making it easier for forecasters to identify the locations of strong thunderstorms, tornadoes and lightning, which are all highly hazardous weather events. For the first time, GOES also provided forecasters with data on ice formation and snow melt in addition to other atmospheric features.

GOES-R, the latest GOES series of weather satellites, is now in space and will undergo an on-orbit checkout before it begins official operations in January 2023. Lockheed Martin will continue to partner with NOAA on the next generation of GOES satellites, enabling a more timely and accurate delivery of weather forecasts.