Watch the live launch of NOAA’s new GOES-S weather satellite

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2017 was a terribly good year for cataclysms.

Infernos engulfed not only California, which suffered its most destructive wildfire season on record, but also the vast American West. A hyperactive hurricane season has delivered the Gulf Coast its costliest blows in history. And these hurricanes Also triggered tornado outbreaks in the southern United States, contributing to one of the most active and prolonged tornado seasons ever documented.

This could be a sign of things to come: climate models predict that rising CO2 levels will stoke more violent storms, fires and floods. Fortunately, in the face of the planet’s increasingly wild forecasts, scientists have developed an arsenal of tools to observe, understand and anticipate severe weather phenomena.

Chief among them are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES-R weather satellites (pronounced “goes-are” or “Gozer,” like the Ghostbusters villain, depending on who you ask). The acronym stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. The “R” at the end has to do with a convoluted naming convention: NOAA assigns each GOES satellite a letter before launch and a number when it reaches orbit. So in 1975 GOES-A became GOES-1 when it parked 22,300 miles above Earth, while GOES-G, which was destroyed in a failed launch, did not never received a number. To complicate matters further, the fact that GOES-R is both the name of NOAA’s latest series of environmental satellites and one of the in this series. The first, GOES-R, was successfully launched in November 2016, becoming GOES-16. The second, GOES-S, is scheduled to launch on March 1 on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. The two-hour launch window opens at 5:02 p.m. Eastern Time, and assuming the 11,500-pound spacecraft makes it safely to geostationary orbit, it will pass through GOES-17. You can watch below.

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Understood? Good. NOAA’s indecipherable satellite nomenclature aside, the important thing to know about GOES-16 and (fingers crossed)-17 is that they are the most sophisticated environmental prediction spacecraft ever mounted on an orbiting rocket. They will respectively monitor the eastern and western parts of the United States and its adjacent oceans, covering an area that stretches from the west coast of Africa to the east of New Zealand. Together, they will provide researchers and meteorologists with valuable data on weather systems, including severe storms, wildfires, lightning and dense fog, in near real time. The result: more accurate forecasts on your weather app, for starters. More robust climate models, on the other hand. But above all: a more advanced warning the next time local conditions turn cataclysmic.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V thruster and Centaur stage for NOAA’s GOES-S are unloaded from the transport vessel Mariner at the Army Dock at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.NASA/Leif Heimbold

Assuming it reaches orbit, the satellite formerly known as GOES-S will provide this warning using powerful instruments such as the Advanced Baseline Imager. Its 70-megapixel camera will scan the planet along 16 spectral channels tuned to detect visible, infrared and near-infrared signals at four times the resolution and five times faster than GOES-15, the GOES-S satellite is intended To replace. Translation: This sentry in the sky can simultaneously image the Western Hemisphere once every 15 minutes, the continental United States every five minutes, and smaller areas of interest every 30 seconds.

This includes incipient wildfires, which show up most clearly at infrared wavelengths. They will record at a resolution of 2×2 km per pixel (compared to the GOES-15 resolution of 4×4 km per pixel). “This increased resolution lets you see smaller fires, and the improved temporal resolution lets you see how they grow and where they move,” says Pam Sullivan, GOES-R flight project manager. And when you combine visible channels with infrared, you can also see and track smoke, “which gives people in the field an idea of ​​where the wind is blowing and where they should deploy their firefighters”.

Also on board GOES-S is the excellent geostationary Lightning Mapper, which will greatly improve tracking of severe thunderstorm systems. Studies have shown that peaks in lightning activity can predict the onset of more severe weather events. “The average time for tornado warnings today is between 10 and 15 minutes,” said Tim Walsh, Acting GOES-R Series Program Director. “With the help of GLM, the hope is to see a big increase in this time frame, or even double it.”

The first instrument of its type to fly in geostationary orbit, the mapper will detect lightning by looking at a very narrow spectral band, at 777.4 nm. The reason? Lightning strikes trigger the emission of ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere, which registers at this very specific wavelength. “It’s the perfect thing to look out for when you want to search for lightning without being fooled by another light in that line of sight,” Sullivan says. The GLM will transmit these spectral readings to Earth, where processing algorithms will convert the data into near real-time data that forecasters can use.

Lightning, fire and storm detection not enough for you? These next-generation satellites will also improve detection of fog around airports, improve detection of emergency beacon signals, improve air route planning, and boost detection of geomagnetic storms emanating from the sun, which will save communication and navigation valuable time to prepare for disruptions. by incoming solar particles.

“The key here is that we complement our West Coast image,” Walsh said. The weather in Hawaii and Alaska, and along the Pacific Coast, is coming from farther west than researchers and forecasters could ever see with GOES-16. Its sister satellite, assuming all goes well, will give researchers, forecasters and the public a better idea of ​​what’s going on, from the everyday to the extreme.

Space weather

  • Last November, NASA and NOAA also launched their JPSS-1 weather satellite; you can find out more here.

  • But the United States is not the only country with good orbital infrastructure; Check out this Japanese weather satellite.

  • It’s not because your big brother is starting that we will forget you, GOES-R. You still have the best name.

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