Launch of the next weather satellite on March 1 – when will we see the first images?

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Since the launch into orbit of NOAA’s first weather satellite in 1975 – preceded by two prototypes in 1974 and February 1975 – a look at cloud cover has been part of every forecast you see on TV.

And while the previous generation of weather satellites in NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Program were good for their time (the last was launched in 2010), improvements still needed to be made to ensure that meteorologists and weather can obtain better quality images. Earth clouds faster.

Night-time infrared satellite image from GOES-16, showing North and South America, as well as the Atlantic Ocean and West Africa (far right) (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

These improvements were especially needed when the National Weather Service began rolling out enhancements to the National Doppler Radar Network that allow the radar to look at the lowest levels of the atmosphere as quickly as every minute in severe weather (compared to as long as five minutes before these improvements).

With the launch of GOES-R (which was renamed GOES-16 after reaching orbit) in November 2016, a new era began for satellite observation. As is the case with all weather satellites, it and its sister satellite GOES-17 (formerly GOES-S) orbit approximately 22,300 miles above Earth, watching us around the clock.

The next generation GOES-R series has brought huge improvements over the previous generation. For us in the Tennessee Valley, here are a few that our local National Weather Service and Weather Authority meteorologists use regularly:

  • Images that update as fast as every minute
  • Images twice as clear as the previous generation

With this clarity and rapid refresh that rivals the national Doppler radar network, it can lead to:

  • Improved hurricane track forecasts
  • More time to take cover before a thunderstorm or tornado hits your city
  • Better detection of heavy rain and potential for flash flooding

GOES-16 was declared operational on December 18, 2017, after nearly a year of providing preliminary non-operational data to NOAA engineers, scientists and weather enthusiasts. Since then, his images have covered North America, parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and even West Africa.

Night-time infrared satellite image from GOES-17, showing North and South America, and the Pacific Ocean (Photo courtesy of NOAA)
Night-time infrared satellite image from GOES-17, showing North and South America, and the Pacific Ocean (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

GOES-S (now known as GOES-17) followed GOES-16 into orbit in March 2018. However, after reaching orbit, a problem was detected with the satellite’s cooling system. Engineers have discovered a flaw in the system that transports heat from on-board electronics to the heatsink and out to space, meaning nighttime images will be degraded and sometimes unavailable just before and after the vernal and auspicious equinoxes. fall.

Despite this, GOES-17 remains operational, covering the Pacific Ocean (including Hawaii), as well as parts of North and South America. NOAA said “extraordinary recovery efforts” resulted in the satellite delivering 94% of the imagery it was designed for.

The cooling systems on board the third and fourth satellites in the GOES-R series (designated GOES-T and GOES-U) have been redesigned to reduce the risk of a similar issue.

And GOES-T (which will be renamed GOES-18 pending successful launch and in-orbit verification) will soon be launched. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V will launch the satellite into orbit on March 1, 2022. The two-hour launch window opens at 3:38 p.m. CT. Once in orbit and ready, engineers will immediately move the satellite to replace GOES-17 in Pacific coverage service.

For approximately five months after launch, the two weather satellites will simultaneously transmit images to Earth – interlacing the images of both satellites in a single image (similar to the national doppler radar mosaic) NOAA tentatively plans to make the images available in August 2022, but the date could change. See the latest information here.

If all goes as planned, NOAA plans to declare GOES-18 operational in early 2023, with GOES-17 moving to a storage position, ready to back up GOES-16 or GOES-18 in the event of a failure on the one or other of the satellites. The GOES-U satellite (which will be renamed GOES-19 after reaching orbit) is tentatively slated for launch in 2024, completing the GOES-R series and extending the program to 2036.

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