GOES-T weather satellite with UW-Madison links set to launch Tuesday

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MADISON, Wis. – A major new weather satellite will head into space on Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Madison meteorologists will be watching the launch very closely.

Meteorologists call the satellites their eyes in the sky, and the GOES-T satellite will provide continuous monitoring of the Pacific Ocean and the western half of the country from 22,300 miles in space.

The orbit journey began, in part, in Madison.

“Verner Soumi, a professor here at UW was watching a football game, in fact, he was watching a Green Bay Packers football game, watched the instant replay and thought if we could actually replay the weather? ” said Tristan L’Ecuyer, professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.

From this idea more than half a century ago, when spaceflight was in its infancy and with the help of UW scientists and engineers, the first weather satellites were developed. Each new satellite added sensors to monitor the atmosphere, many of which were imagined and developed long before the upcoming launch.

“These satellites usually have a lifetime of about ten years, which means you have to think about the next one before you launch the current one, and guess if I can extrapolate a bit from that, so the researchers in this building now and at the University of Wisconsin are already working on the concepts for the satellites that will be launched in the 2030s,” L’Ecuyer said.

The new satellite will be key to helping forecast weather across the country.

“It’s important to note that the GOES-West satellite covers the Pacific Ocean, and since so much of our weather comes from the west, we actually have the ability to track weather systems coming from the Pacific Ocean towards the United States,” L’Ecuyer explained.

Combined with the GOES-East satellite, it is possible to take photos of cloud development as often as every 30 seconds, providing critical weather data on hurricanes at sea, severe thunderstorms that could spawn tornadoes or even bands of heavy snow during winter storms.

It will do more than just monitor clouds: it will help measure lightning from space and can also help monitor forest fires in remote areas like uninhabited forests.

“I think now, with satellite data, we’ve demonstrated that we can actually warn people of fires long before observers can even see smoke from fires on the ground,” L’Ecuyer said.

The launch is scheduled for 3:38 p.m. Tuesday.

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