The new US weather satellite is so advanced that looking at data from old weather satellites feels like an insulting downgrade. Lower resolution? Slower updates? Pish Posh. It’s below us now. Well, we’ll have to get used to it for at least a little longer. GOES-16NOAA’s sleek satellite that’s spent a good part of a year tinkering with it for use in orbit, will end on November 30 to begin a three-week journey to its permanent perch to watch over our skies.
Launched in November 2016, the sixteenth satellite in the family of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) is one of the most advanced weather satellites in orbit today. look at images taken by GOES-16 is a drool-worthy experience for meteorologists and casual weather geeks. We can watch storms live and die as they occur. We’ve seen this year’s record-breaking hurricanes in phenomenal detail, helping those in the storms’ path prepare for what’s to come.
The current suite of GOES weather satellites returns visible, infrared and water vapor images of the United States every 15 minutes and a full disk image of the Western Hemisphere every three hours. The new satellite allows us to check the United States every five minutes and see a full disk image every 15 minutes. Smaller scale images, called mesoscale sectors, can be updated every 30 or 60 seconds. Scientists have also improved the resolution of the images sent back to us. You can see individual clouds in such fine detail that you can even try to catch the updraft of a supercell turn like a barber pole.
Satellite technology goes far beyond simply taking pretty pictures of clouds. The satellite contains a sensor that flash cards for the first time from geostationary orbit. This will help us track thunderstorms beyond the range of ground-based Doppler weather radar. Solar technology built into the satellite will also allow scientists to look for solar flares and monitor geomagnetic activity which could damage the satellites.
We started receiving imagery from GOES-16 earlier this year when the satellite went online on a “preliminary, non-operational” basis. NOAA asked users to include this disclaimer because the data was still in the testing phase. Some of the images have been a little funky or misaligned, but there haven’t been any major issues so far. All remaining issues are expected to be resolved by the time the satellite becomes operational on December 20.
GOES-16 will replace the GOES-13 satellite that currently serves as GOES-East, a designation for the satellite that monitors eastern North America and countries that border the Atlantic Ocean. GOES-13 was launched in 2006 and it continued to operate until the end of its intended life. Once GOES-16 begins its lifespan above the equator, the old satellite will be stationed in a new orbit to act as a backup in case something happens to one of its colleagues. Scientists expect GOES-16 to operate for the next decade.
The next two sister satellites of GOES-16 are expected to be launched within the next two years. One will replace the satellite that serves as GOES-West, observing western North America and the eastern Pacific Ocean, and the third will be stationed in orbit as a backup for the two operational satellites.