Better Forecasts Ahead: Lockheed Martin-Built GOES-R Weather Satellite Launched

NOAA’s GOES-R weather satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, was successfully launched on Nov. 19, 4:42 pm. MT on a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

NOAA’s GOES-R weather satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, was successfully launched on Nov. 19, 4:42 pm. MT on a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

November 19, 2016 – NOAA’s next generation geostationary weather satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, was successfully launched today at 4:42 p.m. MST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket. The spacecraft successfully deployed its large solar array and established communications with mission operators.

The new satellite will provide faster and more accurate weather forecasts and warnings, better situational awareness, and enhanced space weather monitoring.

“GOES-R will substantially improve our nation’s weather and space weather prediction capability,” said Tim Gasparrini, GOES-R vice president and program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “This is a prime example of how our expertise in spacecraft development, earth instruments and space-science instruments can combine to save lives and property.”

The GOES Legacy

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) mission is a collaborative program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop, deploy and operate geostationary weather satellites. Starting with the first GOES in 1974, the two organizations have worked together to advance the technology for geostationary satellite observations.

The satellites circle the Earth in geosynchronous orbit, which means they orbit the Earth’s equator at a speed matching the Earth’s rotation. This allows them to stay in a fixed position in the sky, remaining stationary with respect to a point on the ground. The satellites orbit approximately 22,300 miles (35,800 km) above Earth.

For nearly 40 years, data from GOES has been a mainstay of weather forecasts and environmental monitoring in the United States. GOES’ data products are used by the National Weather Service and by researchers hoping to gain a better understanding of interactions between land, ocean, atmosphere and climate. The satellites have also aided in the search and rescue of thousands of individuals in distress.

To meet the nation’s weather data needs, the GOES system requires two operational satellites at all times. GOES East is located at 75 degrees West and provides most of the U.S. weather information. GOES West is located at 135 degrees West over the Pacific Ocean, where storms frequently originate. Together, the satellites observe nearly 60 percent of the Earth’s surface. The data collected by the GOES satellites is so critical that NOAA also maintains an on-orbit spare in case anything goes wrong with either of the other two.

A Forecast For The 21st Century

The next generation of GOES satellites, known as the GOES-R series, is being built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado. Along with the GOES-R satellite launched today, Lockheed Martin is also building the GOES-S, -T, and -U satellites, which will extend the operational GOES satellite system through 2036.

The GOES-R series offers a quantum leap forward in technology, providing continuous imagery and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s Western Hemisphere and providing real-time atmospheric, hydrologic, oceanic, climatic, solar and space data. The satellites will provide improved hurricane track and intensity forecasts, and increased thunderstorm and tornado warning lead time. GOES-R will also offer improved ability to detect wildfires as well as air quality hazards such as aerosols and volcanic ash. In addition, GOES-R advances space weather forecasting, including solar flare warning for communications and navigation disruptions, more accurate monitoring of hazardous energetic particles, and better monitoring of coronal mass ejections.

In all, data from GOES-R will result in 34 new or improved meteorological, solar and space weather products.

The Instrument Package

cxfbb61ukaax6ip

The GOES-R satellite carries six instruments that fit into three classifications: nadir-pointing (pointing toward the Earth), solar-pointing (pointing toward the Sun) and in-situ (near environment).

In addition to the four GOES-R Series satellites (R, S, T, and U), Lockheed Martin designed and built the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) and the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instruments that will fly aboard each spacecraft. Those instruments were built at the company’s Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, California.

The University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) is providing the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS). LASP’s Frank Eparvier is the EXIS instrument principal investigator.

The GOES-R satellite will deploy solar array panels that will generate more than 4,000 watts of electricity from sunlight to power the instruments. The GOES-R satellite will produce 3.5 terabytes of data per day. Current geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites combined only produce 90 gigabytes of data per day.

Weather Observations

Two of GOES-R’s instruments point toward Earth.

The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) is the primary instrument on board GOES-R for imaging Earth’s weather, climate and the environment. ABI will capture continuous images of Earth – scanning the entire globe in five minutes versus 26 minutes with the currently operational GOES satellites. For rapidly changing events like thunderstorms, hurricanes, or fires, ABI can take images as often as every 30 seconds. And because every second counts during severe weather events, ABI will help save lives and property.

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-12-27-49-am10-7-16

The current GOES series of satellites observes the Earth at five different spectral bands, called “channels,” of energy – one channel covers sunlight reflection, and four channels probe different levels of thermal radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. The new ABI will be able to view the Earth with 16 different spectral bands. It will have two visible channels, four near-infrared channels and ten infrared channels. Each channel is like a separate “color” of light, except that all but two of the 16 colors are invisible to human eyes. The GOES-R series will include a true-color picture of the planet for the first time, compared to the black-and-white imagery from the current GOES series.

Also pointing toward Earth is the first operational Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), a unique instrument that maps total lightning activity day and night over the Americas and the adjacent oceans.

GLM is unique both in how it operates and in the information it collects. While ground-based sensors only provide cloud-to-ground coverage, GLM will take hundreds of images every second in near-infrared, mapping both cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning. Forecasters will use the lightning mapper to hone in on storms that represent the greatest threats and since research has shown that increased lightning rates can be a predictor of looming severe weather, GLM could increase lead times for severe storm and tornado warnings.

ABI and GLM will offer complementary and reinforcing sources of information on the intensity and life-cycle development of potentially severe storms.

Space Weather

While terrestrial weather is the satellite’s primary mission, its suite of space weather instruments are critical to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado. GOES-R will carry solar and space monitoring instruments that will provide significantly improved images and detection of approaching space weather hazards.

Space weather can impact many aspects of our technology-dependent society by affecting ground-based power grids and endangering billions of dollars worth of commercial and government satellite systems.

The Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) on GOES-R is a telescope that observes the sun in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength range. SUVI will observe active regions of the sun in order to detect solar flares and the warning signs of coronal mass ejections. Depending on the size and trajectory of solar eruptions, the energetic particles may affect Earth’s environment in space. SUVI observations will provide an early warning of such impacts to the Earth environment. With warning, power grid operators can modify their operations to counteract the effects of space weather and satellite operators can put their satellites in safer configurations.

Designed and built at LASP, the instrument known as the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) is the first of four identical packages that will fly on the four GOES satellites in the coming decade. EXIS will measure energy output from the sun that can affect satellite operations, telecommunications, GPS navigation and power grids.

EXIS consists of an Extreme Ultraviolet Sensor (EUVS), an X-Ray sensor (XRS) and a combined EUVS/XRS electronics box (EXEB) to control subsystems and to do command and data handling interface with the GOES-R spacecraft. Image Credit: LASP

EXIS consists of an Extreme Ultraviolet Sensor (EUVS), an X-Ray sensor (XRS) and a combined EUVS/XRS electronics box (EXEB) to control subsystems and to do command and data handling interface with the GOES-R spacecraft. Image Credit: LASP

EXIS consists of two LASP instruments, including XRS, an X-ray sensor that can determine the strength of solar flares and provide rapid alerts to scientists. Large solar flares, equivalent to the explosion of millions of atomic bombs, can trigger “proton events” that send charged atomic particles flying off the sun and into Earth’s atmosphere in just minutes. They can damage satellites, trigger radio blackouts and even threaten the health of astronauts by penetrating spacecraft shielding.

“The XRS gives the first alert that a solar flare is occurring, providing NOAA with details on its timing, magnitude and direction within seconds,” said Eparvier.

The second EXIS instrument, the Extreme Ultraviolet Sensor (EUVS), will monitor solar output in the extreme ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is completely absorbed by Earth’s upper atmosphere. When the extreme UV light wavelengths penetrate the upper atmosphere during active periods on the sun, they can break apart, ionize and change the properties of the atmosphere through which satellites fly and radio waves propagate. Fluctuations in extreme UV wavelengths from the sun ionize the upper atmosphere and interfere with communications like cell phones and GPS signals. In addition, such fluctuations can create satellite drag, causing spacecraft to slowly fall out of orbit and burn up months or years before such events are anticipated.

“Modern technology has made us vulnerable to extreme variations in space weather that can have significant effects on Earth communications,” Eparvier said.

More than 100 LASP personnel ranging from scientists and engineers to technicians, programmers and students have worked on the EXIS program since 2006. LASP will support EXIS on the four NOAA GOES satellite missions through spacecraft integration, testing, launch and commissioning.

In-Situ Instruments

GOES-R also has two in-situ instruments that will monitor their own space environment.

The Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS) consists of an array of sensors that will monitor the proton, electron and heavy ion fluxes at geosynchronous orbit. The information provided by SEISS will be used for assessing radiation hazards to astronauts and satellites. In addition to hazard assessment, the information from SEISS can be used to warn of high flux events, mitigating damage to radio communication. The SEISS instrument suite consists of the Energetic Heavy Ion Sensor (EHIS), the Magnetospheric Particle Sensor-High and Low (MPS-HI and MPS-LO) and the Solar and Galactic Proton Sensor (SGPS). Data from SEISS will drive the solar radiation storm portion of NOAA space weather scales and other alerts and warnings issued by SWPC and will improve solar energetic particle forecasts.

The GOES-R Magnetometer will provide measurements of the space environment magnetic field that controls charged particle-dynamics in the outer region of the magnetosphere. These particles can be dangerous to spacecraft and human spaceflight. The geomagnetic field measurements will provide alerts and warnings to satellite operators and power utilities. Magnetometer data will also be used in research. The GOES-R Magnetometer products will be part of NOAA’s space weather operations, providing information on the general level of geomagnetic activity and permitting detection of sudden magnetic storms. Additionally, measurements will be used to validate large-scale space environment models that are used in operations.

The Magnetometer is mounted on the end of a boom that extends 26 feet away from the satellite, allowing the sensor to be much more perceptive of the space environment that current magnetometers, resulting in better forecasting of space weather.

GOES-R Unique Payload Services

The GOES-R Unique Payload Services (UPS) suite consists of transponder payloads providing communications relay services in addition to the primary GOES mission data. The UPS suite consists of the Data Collection System (DCS), the High Rate Information Transmission/Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (HRIT/EMWIN), GOES Rebroadcast (GRB), and the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system.

The DCS collects ground sensor data on things like tides, water levels, temperatures, etc. and sends it to NOAA. GRB gets high level data products from ground processing systems, collects the signals, and then rebroadcasts the information in near-real-time for others to use. Relayed data can include forecasts, warnings and graphics.

GOES-R continues the legacy Geostationary SAR (GEOSAR) function of the SARSAT system onboard NOAA’s GOES satellites, which has contributed to the rescue of thousands of individuals in distress. The SARSAT transponder can detect signals from emergency beacons on aircraft, maritime vessels, or individuals. The transponder will operate with a lower uplink power than the current system, enabling GOES-R to detect weaker beacon signals and will then relay the location of activated beacons to NOAA, who will notify search and rescue personnel at the U.S. Coast Guard or Air Force.

Ground Support

Ground support is also critical to the GOES-R mission. The ground segment consists of the facilities, antenna sites, and the software and hardware to process, create and distribute end user products. The ground system will process and distribute approximately 40 trillion operations per second. It will also provide command and control of the GOES-R constellation of satellites and their onboard instruments.

Because the satellites are geostationary, ground stations can be built directly below that can handle communications and data flow, ensuring that data is fast and accurate.

The ground system will operate from two primary locations: the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility (NSOF) in Suitland, Maryland, and the Wallops Command and Data Acquisition Center at Wallops, Virginia. A third facility in Fairmont, West Virginia, will serve as the Consolidated Backup in case of a systems or communications failure at either or both of the primary sites.

Post Launch Activity

GOES-R will reach geostationary orbit approximately two weeks after launch and will then be known as GOES-16. It will be placed in a central checkout orbit of 89.5 degrees West and will undergo a period of post-launch testing and extended validation before moving to its operational location within a year. It has not yet been determined where GOES-R will be placed in its operational orbit, but the final decision will be based on the health, safety and performance of the GOES constellation.

The data from GOES-R will be archived in the NOAA Comprehensive Large Area Storage System (CLASS) (https://www.class.noaa.gov/) and available in near real time once the satellite becomes operational. Space weather forecasts and imagery can be found via the Space Weather Prediction Center (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/)

The GOES-R satellites are based on Lockheed Martin’s famed A2100 bus, which has seen hundreds of years of combined on-orbit operations. The 6,280-pound (2,850-kg), three-axis stabilized spacecraft was designed for an on-orbit life of 15 years.

Lockheed Martin has a more than 50-year history of designing and building weather and environmental spacecraft and instruments dating back to TIROS 1 in 1960, the world’s first weather satellite. The company has built and launched just over 100 weather and environmental spacecraft for the U.S. Government’s civl and military agencies.

NOAA funds, manages and will operate the GOES-R Series satellites. NASA oversees the acquisition and development of the GOES-R spacecraft, instruments and launch vehicle. The program is co-located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Harris Corp. provided GOES-R’s ABI, the antenna system for data receipt, and the ground segment.

GOES-S is expected to launch in February 2018.