NASA launches NOAA’s GOES-R advanced weather satellite

Nov. 21, 2016

NASA successfully launched NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) weather satellite at 6:42 p.m. EST Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Angela Fritz in The Washington Post says the satellite is first to launch as part of an effort to replace weather satellites monitoring North America that are approaching their end of life.

She explains that GOES-R joins an international network of satellites that share data freely among nearly 200 countries. “Advance notice of crippling blizzards, long-range hurricane forecasts—even a severe thunderstorm outlook—is possible because of the freely-provided weather data from Europe, China, and Russia,” she writes. “It is a mutual understanding based on an unspoken tenet: Our well-being is important, and so is yours, and we can’t do this without one another.”

She adds that the notion of sharing weather information dates back to the late 1800s when countries shared information to aid maritime activity. Today, 191 governments share information as members of the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization.

Fritz provides a NASA and WMO graphic showing 10 stationary and 12 polar-orbiting satellites operated by the U.S., China, European Union, India, Russia, and South Korea.

She quotes Richard Rood, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Michigan, as saying, “The U.S. was originally the only global network, and then the Europeans, Japan, and India all started launching their own satellites. We had to develop a data-sharing agreement.” Fritz notes that more than 90% of the data ingested by forecast models comes from satellites around the world.

She notes that countries have shared satellites as well. In 1993 the Europeans shifted a geostationary satellite over the Atlantic to the west to fill in a gap left by a failed NOAA satellite. And in 2002 the U.S. lent a satellite to Japan after its west Pacific satellite began running out of fuel.

“The launch of GOES-R represents a major step forward in terms of our ability to provide more timely and accurate information that is critical for life-saving weather forecasts and warnings,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, in a press release. “It also continues a decades-long partnership between NASA and NOAA to successfully build and launch geostationary environmental satellites.”

After it reaches its final designated orbit in the next two weeks, GOES-R will be renamed GOES-16. The new satellite will become operational within a year, after undergoing a checkout and validation of its six new instruments, including the first operational lightning mapper in geostationary orbit.

The satellite’s primary instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), will provide images of Earth’s weather, oceans, and environment with 16 different spectral bands, including two visible channels, four near-infrared channels, and 10 infrared channels.

Other instruments include the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensor (EXIS), Space-Environment In Situ Suite (SEISS), and a magnetometer, as described in the mission overview and pictured in a NOAA/NASA diagram posted by Fritz.

NOAA said improved space weather sensors on GOES-R will monitor the sun and relay crucial information to forecasters so they can issue space weather alerts and warnings. In all, data from GOES-R will result in 34 new or improved meteorological, solar, and space weather products.

“The next generation of weather satellites is finally here,” added NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. “GOES-R will strengthen NOAA’s ability to issue life-saving forecasts and warnings and make the United States an even stronger, more resilient weather-ready nation.”

“NOAA and NASA have partnered for decades on successful environmental satellite missions,” said Sandra Smalley, director of NASA’s Joint Agency Satellite Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, which worked with NOAA to manage the development and launch of GOES-R. “Today’s launch continues that partnership and provides the basis for future collaboration in developing advanced weather satellites.”

Beyond weather forecasting, GOES-R also will be part of the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) System, an international satellite-based search and rescue network operated by NOAA. The satellite is carrying a special transponder that can detect distress signals from emergency beacons.

There are four satellites in the GOES-R series: -R, -S, -T and -U, which will extend NOAA’s geostationary coverage through 2036.

NOAA manages the GOES-R Series Program through an integrated NOAA-NASA office. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, acquired and managed the United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch service and led the countdown. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, oversees the acquisition of the GOES-R series spacecraft and instruments.

For more information about GOES-R, visit https://www.nasa.gov/content/goes-r/index.html and http://www.goes-r.gov.

Fritz concludes her Washington Post article by quoting Cliff Mass, a professor of meteorology at the University of Washington, as saying, “This is probably the most complex technology that our species is involved in—weather prediction is. And we do it together as one species. It’s one of our greatest successes.”

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