GOES Satellites and Their Uses


GOES data are essential for short-term weather forecasting and weather monitoring. GOES data are distributed by the National Environmental Satellite and Information Service to various operational and research centers. A wide range of users, including the National Weather Service, commercial weather services, universities, the Department of Defense, and the global research community, use the GOES data products. For more information, visit the GOES website. These data are available to the public on a free, open-access basis.

GOES instruments operate on regular schedules. The GOES East instrument has a scan area spanning the extended Northern Hemisphere, while GOES West monitors the entire visible hemisphere. Both satellites use similar maps and their schedules may change, depending on the conditions of the Earth. If severe weather occurs in a region, the instruments will scan that area more frequently. This way, forecasters will know exactly how much precipitation to expect.

GOES satellites collect data for meteorologists by measuring visible light. This light is reflected from the Earth’s surface and cloud tops. This sunlight is useful for meteorologists, because it enables them to identify the types of clouds, track cloud movement, and provide early warning of severe weather. GOES also monitors portions of the Earth that are not cloud-covered. Snow, ice, and light-colored sand reflect the greatest amounts of visible light.

GOES spacecraft operate in geostationary orbit and continuously monitor the continental United States, the Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean. The GOES-16 satellite has begun a three-month field campaign to validate its instruments. The mission will continue until the GOES-17 satellite is fully operational. The mission is critical to preserving the safety and security of Americans. There are many ways to use the GOES satellites. For example, if a storm hits the coast of Texas, GOES can send back images of the cyclone for a safer approach to the affected area.

GOES satellites orbit in the plane of Earth’s equator. They monitor the United States and adjoining oceans. GOES East, which orbits at 75 degrees west of the equator, provides a good view of the U.S., except for western states such as Alaska. GOES West, meanwhile, covers a large area of the Pacific Ocean and a large portion of the United States.

GOES satellites are located in geostationary and geosynchronous orbits. These orbits are the “sweet spot” for meteorological data collection. GOES satellites collect weather information every 30 seconds for a hemisphere. There are 14 GOES satellites in operation, beginning with TIROS-1 in 1960 and ending with the launch of NOAA-19 in February 2009.

GOES-R satellites are the nation’s most advanced fleet of geostationary weather satellites. These satellites circle Earth in a geosynchronous orbit at a speed that matches the rotation of the planet. GOES satellites continuously monitor the Western Hemisphere from 22,300 miles above the earth. They are named before launch and change to a number once in geostationary orbit. The GOES-R satellites will continue to monitor the Western Hemisphere.