The next geostationary operational environmental satellite is about to be launched, with improvements to avoid an instrument problem that caused problems in a previous mission.
The powerful National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather satellite is scheduled to launch March 1 at 4:38 p.m. EST (2138 GMT) from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida. GOES-T will travel to space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and spend several months in a commissioning period.
Once declared operational, the satellite will be renamed GOES-18 and will monitor the western part of the United States. It will replace the 2018 GOES-17, operational but suffering from a cooling problem on its Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument. After a transition period including data transfer, GOES-17 will enter orbital storage, depending on the GOES website.
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GOES-T’s broad mandate includes monitoring for wildfire, lightning, fog, or storms in the Pacific Ocean, western continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. It will also act as an observer for “space weather” such as solar storms, to be part of the larger NOAA and NASA system that monitors solar activity to protect power grids, satellites and systems. navigation.
“Observations from these satellites are even more critical now, as the United States experiences a record number of billion-dollar disasters,” said Pam Sullivan, program manager for NOAA’s GOES-R Series, attendees of a virtual briefing on Tuesday (February 1). ).
Both GOES-T and GOES-17 are part of the larger $11.7 billion GOES-R series, which is a four-satellite program intended to keep the system operational until 2036. A third satellite from the series, GOES-16, launched in 2016 and is operational in the eastern United States. The fourth – GOES-U – is scheduled for launch in 2024, according to NOAA.
The GOES-R series stands out for its ability to detect wildfires, said program scientist Dan Lindsey of NOAA. He said GOES-T would be able to help the fleet with its own ABI.
“Fires have been very active in the western continental United States, and therefore [the satellite] is in an ideal position to observe these fires very closely,” Lindsey said. “ABI is ideal for detecting the heat signature or hot spots of fires. Sometimes it is even able to detect fires before they are reported by the public; this is really essential information to pass on to firefighters so they can deal with fires before they get out of hand.”
ABI, he added, can even track smoke from fires to inform forecasters when plumes are approaching major cities. It can also track volcanic ash or lightning from thunderstorms, which would require adjustments to aviation flight paths, he said. Additionally, the recent Tonga eruption created a massive pressure wave that was spotted in space by GOES-16 and GOES-17.
The short-term benefits of GOES-T forecasts will also contribute to better long-term forecasts as the satellite works with the rest of the fleet and other satellites, said James Yoe, chief administrator of the Joint Multi-Agency Center for the assimilation of satellite data. which works to use this information for long-term climate predictions.
Yoe highlighted measurements such as “wind speed and direction at different levels in the atmosphere” among the data GOES-T will gather to improve weather models. The lightning mapper will power storm forecasts, while eyes on solar weather will improve solar forecasts — when combined with other information from already active satellites, Yoe noted.
Other briefing attendees spoke about the logistics, from testing the spacecraft to preparing the rocket for launch, to the continuous pivoting and social distancing required during the final stages of manufacturing, that took place during the pandemic.
The team also delayed the manufacture of satellites in 2018, according to SpaceNewsto solve the fundamental problem of ABI malfunction encountered by GOES-17 so that it does not reproduce in GOES-T.
The cause of the ABI malfunction was “foreign object debris … blocking the flow of coolant in a leaky piping system,” said Larry Crawford, ABI program manager at manufacturer L3Harris Technologies. Both GOES-T and the future GOES-U have hardware fixes to ensure the same problem doesn’t happen again, he added.
“First light” images from GOES-T should be available in May, Sullivan told reporters, noting they should be treated as “control images” and not sharp, trimmed operational images that will be relayed more late in the mission.
By July, ABI data should start flowing and weather forecasting should have access to the data by then, although the satellite is not fully operational, Sullivan added. The satellite is expected to be declared fully operational by January 2023, according to the GOES website.