What Goes On in Space?

When something goes, it is moving forward. It can be in a car going down the road, or time passing by as you watch the sunset at the beach. Something can also go when you decide to try something new, like learning how to play the guitar or trying to make a pie from scratch.

You can also use the verb go to describe events that are triggered by weather phenomena, such as tornadoes or flash floods. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains the GOES satellite system to observe and respond to these weather phenomena. NOAA’s GOES satellites are placed in geostationary orbit 35,790 kilometres (22,240 miles) above the Earth and continuously scan the continental United States and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Each GOES satellite contains two primary payload instruments: the Imager and Sounder. The Imager is a multichannel sensor that senses infrared radiant energy and visible reflected solar energy from the surface and atmosphere. The Sounder, an active instrument, collects acoustic emissions from the atmosphere that can be used to determine vertical atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles, surface and cloud top temperatures, and ozone distribution.

GOES satellites have the unique ability to be switched into rapid-scan mode, where they scan the whole Earth every 30 seconds at a resolution of 1 km per scan. The Sounder can also be switched to a “fast scan” mode, which can be switched between the Contiguous United States and Pacific oceans in order to track the evolution of local weather phenomena such as severe thunderstorms or hurricanes.

NOAA’s GOES satellites provide real-time observations of the Earth to support meteorological prediction, environmental research and space science. The satellites are commanded from NOAA’s Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. The GOES satellite system is operated in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which manages the design, development and launch of each spacecraft.

The GOES-R (GOES-16 through GOES-17) series is the most advanced satellites in the GOES program. This new generation of satellites is the first to offer an upgraded transmission system that supports HRIT (High Rate Information Transmission) and EMWIN (Emergency Managers Interactive Weather Information Network). HRIT/EMWIN offers higher data relay capacity over the previous LRIT and CRIT services, which will help forecasters to respond rapidly to severe weather events across the country.

In the future, NOAA plans to add a new capability to the GOES-R series called SXI, which will monitor solar activity by tracking electrons in the upper atmosphere. This instrument will allow us to better understand the role that the Sun plays in our planet’s climate and provide a more complete picture of how these solar particles can impact our weather.