The next advanced weather satellite for the United States is officially set to launch into orbit this week on an Atlas V rocket.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have cleared the new GOES-T weather satellite for a scheduled March 1 launch, the two agencies announced on Saturday (February 26). Liftoff is scheduled for 4:38 p.m. EST (2138 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, with the United Launch Alliance performing the flight.
“The spacecraft, Atlas V rocket and range gear are all ready, and the combined government and contractor launch team is ready to add GOES-T to the family and continue this incredible legacy of these weather sentinels,” said NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn. during a pre-launch press conference on Saturday. GOES is the abbreviation of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite in NASA parlance.
Video: How NOAA’s GOES-T weather satellite will launch on Atlas V
Related: Launch of GOES-T advanced weather satellite with instrument correction
Built by Lockheed Martin, GOES-T (which will be renamed GOES-18 once in orbit) is the third of four advanced weather satellites designed to meet the weather forecasting needs of the United States through 2036. They are part of the NOAA’s $11.7 billion GOES-R series of satellites. program, which launched the GOES-16 weather satellite in 2016 followed by GOES-17 in 2018. A fourth satellite, GOES-U, will follow GOES-T into orbit in 2024.
“The GOES series has revolutionized severe event monitoring for us with respect to storms and other environmental hazards, such as wildfires, which are always a threat to our western states,” said Steve Volz, Deputy Administrator of the NOAA for satellite and information services, in the conference. The first GOES satellite, GOES 1, was launched in 1975, with NASA and NOAA working together on the program.
GOES-T will join its fellow GOES satellites in a geostationary orbit 22,300 miles (just over 35,800 kilometers) above Earth, allowing it to observe weather across the Western Hemisphere. The satellite’s main instrument is its Advanced Baseline Imager, a camera to track the Earth’s weather, oceans and environment. It can scan the Earth five times faster and with four times the resolution of its predecessors, NOAA officials wrote in a preview.
The new satellite also carries a Geostationary Lightning Mapper instrument, the first of its kind, to detect severe thunderstorms earlier “before they produce damaging winds, hail or even tornadoes.” NOAA officials wrote.
GOES-T also carries four different instruments to monitor space weather. A solar ultraviolet imager will take images of the sun while a UV and X-ray sensor will detect solar flares. A magnetometer and suite of instruments to track energetic particles and changes in the Earth’s magnetic field from space weather events.
“Much of the GOES-R [series] mission is actually making solar observations,” said Pam Sullivan, director of NOAA’s GOES-R program.
Before GOES-T can begin its weather monitoring mission, it must reach space. For that, it will take good weather.
Current forecast calls for a 60% chance of good weather by launch Tuesday, with conditions improving to 70% Wednesday if NASA and NOAA are to delay a day, said launch weather officer Jessica Williams of the 45th Weather Squadron at Space Launch Delta in briefing.
If GOES-T is delayed to Thursday, March 3, the mission would clash with another SpaceX launch to launch a batch of new Starlink internet satellites from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center near the GOES-T launch site. . This mission is scheduled to launch at 9:32 a.m. EST (1432 GMT).
Dunn, NASA’s launch director, said the SpaceX flight will be prioritized for the morning launch on March 3, but ULA could still support an afternoon liftoff for GOES-T the same day if necessary.
“It seems achievable if we put ourselves in this situation,” Dunn said, adding that he hopes it won’t be necessary. “We’re really focused on a Tuesday, March 1, launch for GOES and everything is looking really good for that opportunity right now.”