Launch of GOES, a powerful next-generation weather satellite


A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched a powerful new weather satellite into orbit on Saturday, the first of four in an $11 billion upgrade to the nation’s forecasting infrastructure that will track and provide near-time imagery real threatening storms, lightning and other weather phenomena.

An hour late due to two last-minute hitches, the towering rocket’s Russian-built RD-180 first-stage engine and four solid-fueled belt boosters ignited with a brilliant exhaust spurt at 18 42 a.m. EST, generating 2.1 million pounds of thrust and illumination from Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.

Initially ascending straight, the rocket quickly streaked east over the Atlantic Ocean, providing a spectacular early evening spectacle for area residents. tourists and dozens of meteorologists and television forecasters who gathered in Cape Town to witness the long-awaited flight.

Ridding the strap-ons of just under two minutes of flight, the first stage propelled the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere, then fell back four and a half minutes after launch. A single hydrogen-powered Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine in the rocket’s Centaur second stage then ignited to continue the push into space.

Just over 12 minutes after launch, the Centaur engine shut down, placing the last operational geostationary environmental satellite – GOES-R – into the planned preliminary orbit.

Two more burns were needed over the next three hours to complete the launch phase of the mission. The flight plan called for GOES-R to be launched into an elliptical orbit with a high point, or apogee, at approximately 21,926 miles and a low point, or perigee, at approximately 5,038 miles.

GOES-R is the most advanced high-altitude weather satellite ever built, featuring a high-speed multi-spectral camera, a first-of-its-kind lightning mapper and a suite of space weather sensors that represent a “jump quantum” for forecasters, officials say, which will help save lives and property over the 20-year life of the program.

Artist’s impression of the GOES-R satellite orbiting 22,300 miles above the equator.

Lockheed Martin

“For meteorologists, GOES-R will be like going from a black-and-white TV to a super high-definition TV,” said Stephen Volz, associate administrator of satellite and information services at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“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 national and local authorities and all decision makers.

If all goes well, an onboard booster will be fired five times over the next nine days to place the spacecraft into a circular orbit 22,300 miles above the equator where it will take 24 hours to complete an orbit and so seem to cling to the stop. The sky. From this high perch, GOES-R will see the entire Western Hemisphere.

“We will be able to (image) the whole hemisphere every five minutes or better yet, for a hurricane or a big thunderstorm, we will be able to actually focus and make updates every 30 seconds,” said Greg Mandt, of the NOAA. Director of the GOES-R program. “And we get the data to forecasters within seconds or minutes.

“So in a sense it’s like watching it with a real-time camera so they can really watch what’s going on, how it’s going and therefore make much more accurate warnings of significant weather events that are happening. .”

GOES-R is the first of four next-generation weather stations built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems as part of a nearly $11 billion program that includes major upgrades to ground stations and satellite infrastructure. ‘data analysis. The program is intended to provide uninterrupted hemispheric observations until 2036.

GOES-R, which will be renamed GOES-16 once testing is complete, is equipped with a powerful new camera known as the Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, which will take pictures five times faster than cameras Current GOES, with four times the resolution. and three times the spectral coverage.

“Forecasters will have much more detailed views of weather systems,” said Joe Pica, a senior National Weather Service official. “We will be able to see rapidly developing events in real time and when we see an evolving weather system, we will be able to zoom in and use this high spatial resolution to take pictures in 16 different spectral bands every 30 seconds.”

Spectral imagery, combined with Doppler radar data, “will improve our understanding of a storm’s growth or waning,” Pica said. “It will help us track severe storms, including tornadoes, predict the movement of wildfires, track plumes from volcanic eruptions, and tell if a hurricane is intensifying.”

Besides the ABI camera, GOES-R also includes a sensitive magnetometer, an ultraviolet X-ray sensor to measure the impact of solar radiation on the upper atmosphere, an ultraviolet imager to continuously monitor the sun, and sensors to measure charged particles sunlight that can affect communications and navigation.

Another look at the Atlas 5 as it pulled away from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.

Walter Scriptunas II/

The Lightning Mapper, a first for a GOES spacecraft, will take infrared photos of lightning fields in the Western Hemisphere approximately 200 times per second.

“What the researchers found is that where you have huge growth in lightning numbers, that’s where the severe storms really start to grow,” Mandt said. “By getting the data to forecasters within seconds, they get an earlier indication of, for example, a tornado forming. Even better, due to the accuracy of the data, you can also be more confident in a forecast.”

With today’s aging satellites, he said, forecasters tend to “over-warn like 80% of the time”.

“Hopefully this cuts that in half so people know that when they get a tornado warning they do indeed want to respond,” he said. “Hurricane researchers and forecasters are really excited about what they will be able to see…not only to help, maybe, reduce the cone of uncertainty (in a hurricane’s path) , but also to better predict changes in intensity.”

NASA is responsible for purchasing weather satellites for NOAA, organizing the launch, and overseeing in-orbit testing and verification. GOES-R will be handed over to NOAA for operational use once testing is complete.

The next satellite in the series, GOES-S, is expected to be launched in early 2018, followed by GOES-T around 2020 and GOES-U around 2024.


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