Why NOAA’s GOES-R Satellite Matters

Artist Rendition of GOES-R. Image Credit: Lockeed Martin

Artist Rendition of GOES-R. Image Credit: Lockeed Martin

March 16, 2015 – With eyes to the future of improved weather forecasting, the team behind NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series will launch its first satellite, GOES-R, one year from now in March 2016.

GOES-R will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on board a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket into geosynchronous orbit where it will have a view of the Western Hemisphere from 22,000 miles above the Earth. In this position, the satellite is poised to capture near-real-time observations of weather across the United States and the surrounding oceans.

Weather satellites, like the GOES satellites, are the backbone of National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts. Satellite data travels to the NWS where supercomputers and expert meteorologists run models that turn out a sophisticated forecast. The next generation GOES satellite, GOES-R, will be more advanced than any other weather satellite of its kind and could make the answer to the question “What’s the weather going to be?” more detailed and accurate both in the near term and further out into the future.

The primary instrument on the new GOES-R satellite will collect three times more data and provide four times better resolution and more than five times faster coverage than current satellites. This means the satellite will scan Earth’s Western Hemisphere every five minutes and as often as every 30 seconds in areas where severe weather forms, as compared to approximately every 30 minutes with the current GOES satellites.

This expedited data means that forecasts will be timelier, with more “real-time” information in them, allowing NWS to make those warnings and alerts that much faster, thereby potentially saving lives.

And a faster forecast is important for the economy. Commercial shipping and aviation are just two examples of industries that rely on up-to-date weather data for critical decisions about how to route ships and safely divert planes around storms. Other potentially dangerous phenomena can also be observed by satellites, including volcanic ash clouds, dangerous fog and changing hurricane intensity. And, GOES-R will be part of the satellite search and rescue system called SARSAT. In 2014, the system helped saved 240 lives in the U.S. alone.

In addition to measuring weather on Earth, the GOES-R satellite’s instrument suite will be used to observe the sun and space weather including coronal mass ejections, solar flares and ion fluxes that can disrupt power grids, communication and navigation systems and create radiation hazards. Space weather has the potential to bring significant disruptions to every major public infrastructure system, including power grids, telecommunications and GPS. Space weather observations from GOES-R will complement those from the DSCOVR mission, providing a comprehensive look at incoming solar storms.

The GOES-R program is a collaborative development and acquisition effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. NOAA manages the GOES-R Series Program through an integrated NOAA-NASA program office, located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Six instruments will fly on the GOES-R satellite, including two built by CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and another designed and built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor.