GOES Satellites Launched With New Upgrades

GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) is a series of geostationary weather satellites that provide continuous imagery and data on atmospheric conditions, solar activity, space weather, ocean and land environments. They’ve been in operation since 1975. NASA builds and launches them, while NOAA maintains them. The National Weather Service (NWS) and other agencies use them to improve weather forecasts, protect lives and property, support search and rescue operations, monitor natural disasters and long-term climate changes, and even help in space exploration.

Earlier this year, NOAA launched the first of the new generation of GOES satellites — GOES-16 and GOES-17. The new GOES satellites have several advantages over the older satellites, including improved imaging capabilities, more mesoscale domains and faster scanning. One of the most significant upgrades is the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). The ABI has three times more spectral channels, four times more resolution and five times the scanning speed of previous GOES satellites. It can detect small clouds as well as large hurricanes. The other key upgrade is the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensor (EXIS). This instrument can detect solar flares that could disrupt communications, reduce navigational accuracy on high altitude airplanes and power grids on Earth.

Another exciting feature on the GOES-R satellites is the Lightning Mapper. This sensor can measure total lightning activity in the Americas and adjacent ocean regions. It will benefit airlines and shipping companies by providing more precise weather hazard information. It will also allow for more accurate and timely alerts for lightning hazards to flight crews.

A spokesman for NOAA says the agency is still evaluating the best way to get this data to the aviation industry, and the agency is seeking comments from companies that might be interested in receiving the lightning data. The agency is also considering whether to provide this data on an online portal that would be accessible to commercial users, according to the spokesman.

Shipping a satellite is no easy task. GOES-T, for example, is the size of a bus and weighs more than 6,000 pounds. Its team at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado, carefully packed it inside a container that protected its instruments and acted as a miniature clean room during transit to Buckley Space Force Base near Aurora. From there, it hitched a ride on a C-5 Galaxy cargo plane to Kennedy Space Center.

The new GOES-T satellite will be renamed GOES-18 once it reaches its geostationary orbit and is put into operational service. When it is ready, it will be positioned to cover the West Coast of the United States, Alaska, Hawaii and parts of Mexico, Central America and South America. Currently, GOES-13 serves this role.

GOES-18 is also scheduled to be used as backup for GOES-16. It will be the first third-generation GOES to go into backup mode, although it will have plenty of fuel on board for an extended stay in that role if necessary. The STAR website hosts examples of ongoing experimental products developed by the GOES-R Science and Operations Teams at NOAA’s Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC). The STAR website provides access to real data and images for scientists, researchers, educators, students and anyone else who wants to experiment with this amazing resource.