Launch of the new expensive American weather satellite on Saturday

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christmas is arrive early for meteorologists. At 5:42 p.m. ET Saturday, the United Launch Alliance will blast the GOES-R satellite into space for NOAA. This new instrument will provide real-time data and images to help forecast various kinds of weatherfrom hurricanes on Earth to solar storms. NASA television will provide live coverage beginning at 5:10 p.m. ET.

All sorts of superlatives have been applied to this first of a new generation of weather satellites – the fastest, best, clearest – in terms of data and images sent back to Earth. Mission scientists say GOES-R bridges the gap between a time when most people got their 10 a.m. weather information from a TV personality and everyone carried a 10-day forecast in their pocket. Or, they say, it’s like going from black and white television to high definition.

Saturday’s launch will be the first of four spacecraft in NOAA’s GOES-R series, which is estimated to cost around $11 billion through 2035. The satellite will have three times as many data channels as its most immediate predecessor, the GOES 15 which was launched. in 2010 (GOES stands for “Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite”). GOES-R enhances each current GOES satellite product, while adding new information on lightning, smoke, fires and volcanic ash, among other variables. The images it produces of weather systems on Earth will have four times the resolution of its predecessor. And with its new Advanced Baseline Imager, the satellite will have the ability to scan major storm systems every 30 seconds and the entire Western Hemisphere five times faster.

For all of this, the delicate satellite still needs to arrive safely in space before it can begin operations. We’ll find out on Saturday, depending on weather conditions and technical issues with the rocket, if that’s the case. The GOES-R satellite will head into space aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket, a variant that features four solid rocket boosters attached to a shared core.

After launch, the rocket’s upper stage will propel the satellite deeper into space, into geostationary orbit nearly 36,000 km from Earth. It will take 14 days to reach it. The satellite will then remain in a “verification” orbit for about a year, during which time the instrument will be validated, before finally moving into an operational geosynchronous orbit.

Announcement image by United Launch Alliance

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