Launch of a powerful next-generation weather satellite to begin predicting the “revolution”


A powerful new satellite that will give forecasters their best insights into storms and other severe weather has taken flight.

the Launch of the GOES-R weather satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida today (November 19) at 6:42 p.m. EST (2342 GMT), aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket into orbit. The spectacular launch, which lit up the Florida night sky, happened about an hour later than planned due to issues with the rocket and launch range that were quickly resolved.

GOES-R is the first of four new advanced weather satellites which are, somewhat confusingly, collectively known as GOES-R. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which manages the GOES-R program, has high expectations for these four spacecraft. [See more GOES-R launch and mission photos]

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launches the new GOES-R advanced weather satellite into orbit from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Nov. 19, 2016. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

“Without a doubt, GOES-R will revolutionize weather forecasting as we know it,” said Stephen Volz, deputy administrator of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Services Division, at a pre-season press conference. launch Thursday 17 November.

“For meteorologists, GOES-R will be similar to going from a black and white TV to a super high definition TV,” Volz added. “For the American public, this will mean faster and more accurate weather forecasts and warnings. It will also mean more lives saved and better environmental intelligence for state and local officials and all decision makers.”

The GOES-R satellite zips through space aboard an Atlas V rocket in this long exposure of its successful launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November 19, 2016. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

Famed NBC Today Show meteorologist Al Roker, one of several television meteorologists who witnessed the launch of the GOES satellite, agreed with Volz.

“What’s so exciting is that we’re going to get more data, more often, with a lot more detail and higher resolution,” Roker told NASA’s Stephanie Martin during live launch commentary today. today. The new GOES satellite will help improve not only weather forecasting, but also hurricane and tornado forecasting, Roker added.

“If we can give people an extra 10, 15 or 20 minutes, we’re talking about saved lives,” Roker said.

Artist’s impression of the GOES-R weather satellite in space. GOES-R was launched on November 19, 2016 and will reach final geostationary orbit approximately two weeks later (at which time its name will change to GOES-16). (Image credit: NASA)

GOES-R is the 16th GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) craft to go into space – and the satellite will be renamed GOES-16 when it reaches its final orbit, in about two weeks. GOES satellites have been studying weather patterns from above for more than four decades; GOES-1 was launched in October 1975. Two GOES craft, known as GOES-East and GOES-West because of their orbital positions, are currently doing this work; a third GOES spacecraft is also aloft serving as an in-orbit standby. [Earth from Space: See the Amazing NASA Photos]

GOES satellites operate from a geostationary orbit, approximately 22,300 miles (35,890 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface along the equator. At this altitude, their orbital speeds match the rotational speed of the Earth, so the spacecraft can keep a continuous eye on the same expanse of land. In this case, that means the United States and much of the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

NOAA officials said GOES-R’s six-instrument suite represents a big upgrade over the equipment from GOES-East and GOES-West, which were launched in 2006 and 2010, respectively.

For example, GOES-R’s main instrument, called the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), will collect three times more data, with four times the resolution, than comparable devices on GOES-East and GOES-West. And ABI will be able to scan the landscape five times faster to boot, NOAA officials said.

GOES-R is also the first satellite to carry a lightning mapping tool into geostationary orbit. This instrument will photograph lightning activity throughout the Western Hemisphere about 200 times per second, NOAA officials said.

“When you compare all those [photos]you get an idea of ​​where the severe weather is really starting to brew,” NOAA GOES-R system program manager Greg Mandt said at the same press conference. “So with that information, the weather service will be able to forecast severe weather longer and do so with much more confidence, reducing false alarms. »

GOES-R should also increase the accuracy of space weather predictions, Mandt added. One of the satellite’s instruments will image the surface of the sun, for example, while others will monitor the amount of energy coming from the star and the activity of charged particles moving near Earth.

All of this information should give researchers an idea of ​​solar storms that could affect satellite navigation, power grids and other infrastructure, NOAA officials said.

GOES-R won’t start doing this work for a while; it is planned to start its operations in about a year, after a long phase of control and validation. At this point, the satellite will take over for GOES-East or GOES-West; it’s unclear at this time which spacecraft the newcomer will replace, Volz said.

When that happens, GOES-16 (as it will be called then) will take on the name of its predecessor. It will be three name changes for the spacecraft in just 12 months: from GOES-R before launch to GOES-16 after reaching its final orbit at GOES-East or -West at the start of operations. (In case you were wondering, the current GOES-East and GOES-West were previously called GOES-13 and GOES-15, respectively.)

GOES-R is designed to operate for 10 years, although it has enough fuel on board to last 18 years, Volz said. The three GOES-R satellites that have not yet started their missions – currently known as GOES-S, GOES-T and GOES-U – are scheduled to be launched in 2018, 2019 and 2024 respectively.

This staggered list should ensure that two satellites will continue to collect high-quality weather data as GOES-East and GOES-West until at least 2036, Mandt said.

The GOES-R program has a total budget of $10.8 billion over its entire life cycle, which spans from 2005 (when development began) to 2036. The project had already spent around $6.1 billion at the end of fiscal year 2015, NOAA officials said. .

Aerospace company Lockheed Martin is building the four GOES-R satellites. NOAA manages the GOES-R program, with assistance from NASA.

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