The Next Generation of GOES Satellites

The GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) system of geosynchronous equatorial weather satellites has been a basic element of U.S. weather monitoring and forecasting since 1974. It is jointly funded and operated by NASA and NOAA. The GOES satellites are used by the National Weather Service to monitor atmospheric conditions throughout the United States and to provide severe storm tracking and meteorology research data.

A NOAA press release explains that the next generation GOES satellites, called the GOES-R series, will have sensors that will increase imagery resolution and allow for the detection of more detail in the atmosphere. In addition, it will have a new solar-pointing instrument and the first Geostationary Lightning Mapper to detect and monitor total lightning activity with a spatial resolution of 8 km across most of the Western Hemisphere.

This satellite will also include the first GOES Sounder to monitor vertical atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles and ozone distribution. All of the GOES-R series satellites will be the first to broadcast all of their data via direct broadcast, and it is expected that this will lead to more accurate and timely weather forecasts and more detailed information about long-term climate changes.

GOES-R will use the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) to provide improved Earth-viewing images. The ABI uses silicon (Si) for the visible and near-infrared spectral bands and mercury cadmium telluride for the infrared spectral band. The ABI images will have a spatial resolution of 1 km for the visible and 4 km for the infrared. The ABI coverage rate will be enhanced by a factor of five from the current GOES satellites, allowing a doubling of imaging capabilities.

In a recent paper, University of Washington researchers led by Professor Michael Hashimoto, analyzed GOES-R ABI imagery from a year-long study of Amazon seasonality to learn more about how the rainforest cycles water and carbon. He and his colleagues found that the GOES-R ABI observations show how seasonality varies throughout the Amazon basin due to a variety of factors, including weather. Previously, studies of Amazon seasonality have relied on polar-orbiting satellites that fly over the region just once or twice per day. GOES-R, with its persistent observations from geostationary orbit, will help improve global models that include Amazon seasonality.

The GOES-R series of satellites is a collaboration between NOAA and NASA. NOAA will fund the development and launch of the satellites, and NASA will design and build the sensor suite. The GOES-R series is scheduled to be launched through 2036, with one operational satellite in each of the eastern and western polar observing positions and an on-orbit spare. Prior to launch, each satellite is designated by a letter that will be changed to a number upon reaching its geostationary orbit. For example, GOES-U was renamed GOES-16 after launch. The process of testing a GOES satellite can take nearly a year. One test involves thermal vacuum testing, which involves placing the satellite in a chamber that has temperatures that range from 188 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 67 Fahrenheit to simulate the extremes encountered during launch and in the space environment.