NOAA’s newest weather satellite, GOES-S, ready for launch – SpacePolicyOnline.com

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NOAA will add another advanced weather satellite to its geostationary constellation within a month. GOES-S, the second in the “GOES-R” series, is scheduled for launch on March 1. During a media conference call today (February 1), NOAA officials explained the capabilities of this new generation of satellites and the possibility that the Air Forcer might want to use one of the older versions.

NOAA operates the nation’s civilian weather satellites, including a set of polar-orbiting satellites that can view the entire globe and another set that is in geostationary orbit (GEO) above the equator. GEO satellites maintain a fixed position relative to a point on Earth and are particularly useful for monitoring tropical regions where hurricanes form.

Artist’s impression of the GOES-S weather satellite. Credit: NOAA website.

GEO satellites are called GOES — Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites — and NOAA is replacing existing satellites with advanced versions with much greater capabilities.

NOAA maintains two GOES satellites operational at all times. One is positioned to view the eastern portion of the United States and adjacent waters (GOES-East) and the other to view the western portion (GOES-West).

The most recent versions have been purchased as a block of four spacecraft which are generically referred to as the “GOES-R” series. Before launch, they have letter designations: GOES-R, GOES-S, GOES-T and GOES-U. GOES-R itself was launched in 2016 and is now operational at the GOES-East site. Once in orbit, NOAA gives them numbers. GOES-R becomes GOES-16.

Now NOAA is preparing to launch GOES-S, which will become GOES-17 and will be placed in the GOES-West location once it is operational. NOAA expects this to happen by the end of the year after several months of testing and validation.

The GOES-R series is a “revolutionary” step up from previous satellites according to NOAA officials. Satellites built by Lockheed Martin can scan the Earth five times faster, have four times the image resolution and three times the number of channels, providing “more accurate and reliable forecasts and extreme weather outlooks”.

GOES-S will provide enhanced tracking of storm systems, lightning, wildfires, dense fog and other hazards for the western continental United States, Hawaii and Alaska.

Tim Walsh, acting director of the GOES-R program, said today that although the new satellite’s viewing angle is the same as before, its improved spatial resolution allows for better views of the Earth’s limb. With GOES-S at the GOES-West location, “we’ll see features in Alaska that we weren’t able to see before” and support local weather forecasters better than in the past.

NOAA officials on the teleconference today declined to say how much GOES-S or any of the other satellites cost individually. Instead, they use the full life cycle cost for the series of four satellites on the basis that satellite and ground system development costs and operating costs are shared. The last two satellites, GOES-T and GOES-U, will be launched in the 2020s and are expected to operate until 2036, so the life cycle costs include operations throughout that year. NOAA estimates the life cycle cost of the series at $10.9 billion.

Some of the oldest satellites are still operational: GOES-13, GOES-14 and GOES-15. GOES-16 replaced GOES-13, which was retired, but could be returned to service if needed. GOES-14 is maintained at an orbital position midway between GOES-East and GOES-West as an on-orbit reserve in case something goes wrong with the primary satellites. GOES-S will replace GOES-15, and GOES-15 will likely be moved to the middle position with GOES-14, although that’s not final, Walsh said.

The fact is that these satellites are still serviceable and NOAA and the Air Force are investigating whether one could meet tactical military requirements. NOAA’s Ajay Mehta said today the two have an agreement to conduct engineering studies. If the studies are favorable, they will formulate another agreement “to actually move the satellite that we decide to meet their needs”. “We are really in the early stages of our relationship with the Air Force,” he added. Mehta is the Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Systems at NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), which oversees NOAA’s weather satellite program.

The DOD continues to struggle to determine its needs for weather satellites and how to meet them. Historically, the DOD and NOAA operated separate military and civilian weather satellite systems in polar orbit. In 1994, the Clinton-Gore administration ordered them to merge their systems into one. The resulting National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program was canceled 16 years later by the Obama administration after years of cost overruns and schedule delays and not a single satellite launched. NOAA and the Air Force were ordered to take over separate systems.

NOAA has moved forward with its Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), the first of which was launched last year, and the GOES-R series for GEO. The DOD initially determined that it could handle its legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites in polar orbit, supplemented with data from a European geostationary satellite for coverage in the Middle East. However, the DOD did not coordinate enough with NOAA to make this decision and therefore did not realize that the Europeans had decided not to replace the satellite the Air Force expected to use. Then the newest of the DMSP satellites, DMSP-19, failed prematurely. Apparently the DOD is now considering using one of the older NOAA GOES satellites to meet some of its needs.

Launch of GOES-S on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is currently scheduled for March 1, 2018 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The two-hour launch window opens at 5:02 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). It will air on NASA TV.

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