The third in a series of four advanced weather satellites was launched Tuesday afternoon from Cape Canaveral. Part of the GOES-R Series (R, S, T, U), the GOES-T satellite will provide consistent coverage of the western United States and most of the Pacific Ocean.
The first in this series, GOES-R, was launched in 2017 and currently monitors eastern North America and the Atlantic Ocean, having been renamed GOES-16 and known colloquially as GOES-East .
GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. These satellites are in geostationary orbit, 22,300 miles above the earth. This positioning allows satellites to circle the Earth at the same speed as the planet rotates on its axis, so they can monitor the same location on Earth without interruption.
With Tuesday’s successful launch, the satellite continues toward its orbital position. Once there, it will be renamed GOES-18 and undergo testing of its systems. After these checks, it will migrate to its position over the Pacific Ocean, taking the moniker GOES-West in early 2023.
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The current satellite in the GOES-West position (GOES-17) will continue to operate as a backup. It suffered from a small cooling problem shortly after reaching orbit in 2018. Although this satellite is not in danger, the new satellite will provide better coverage.
Data from these satellites feeds weather computer simulations, which increase the accuracy of long-range forecasts. In addition to providing higher resolution atmospheric data in time and space, it is the first series of satellites to contain an illumination mapper, improving forecasts over the ocean where lightning detection on the ground is rare at best. Even more critical for the western United States, lightning data from these satellites can often detect the start of a wildfire, long before it is observed on the ground.
NOAA and NASA play a role in building the satellite, setting it up, and distributing the data. NOAA oversees the GOES-R program through an integrated NOAA-NASA office, manages the ground system, operates the satellites, and distributes their data to users worldwide. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center oversees the acquisition of the GOES-R spacecraft and instruments.
The final satellite in the series, GOES-U, is scheduled for launch in the spring of 2024. As the lifespan of these satellites is limited, NOAA is working with NASA on the next-generation geostationary satellite mission called GeoXO for the 2030s.
Video: See where the 2 main weather satellites orbit the Earth (NOAA)
Video: Watch the launch of NASA’s GOES-T satellite