The next in a fleet of United States’ geostationary weather satellites, tasked with providing continuous imagery and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s Western Hemisphere, is now one big step closer to a scheduled launch next year. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites – R Series (GOES-R), which is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and developed in collaboration with NASA, this week finished integration of all six of its science instruments onto the spacecraft, paving the way for environmental testing as the satellite continues with preparations for its upcoming launch and mission.
“The completion of the instruments integration marks another critical step in the development of the GOES-R satellite as we look forward to launch in March 2016,” said Greg Mandt, NOAA’s GOES-R System Program Director at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “We are now focusing our efforts on the environmental testing phase, the next step for the GOES-R spacecraft, to ensure the satellite is prepared to withstand the rigors of launch and operation in the extreme environment of space.”
With GOES-R comes the first major technological advances in geostationary observations since 1994, and—like the GOES satellites that came before—it will orbit the equatorial plane of the earth at a speed matching the Earth’s rotation (geosynchronous orbit), some 22,300 miles high, giving it a fixed position in the sky to continually observe and study weather phenomenon over the continental United States, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Central and South America, and Southern Canada.
To fully cover Alaska, Hawaii, the entire continental United States and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (for tropical storms), NOAA operates two GOES satellites simultaneously: GOES-East and GOES-West. GOES-R will maintain the two-satellite system and replace the current series of GOES.
When GOES-R becomes operational it will employ a total of six science instruments, which will work together to provide researchers with increased severe weather warning lead time, enhanced hurricane track and intensity forecasts, improved solar flare warnings for communications and navigation disruptions, better data for long-term climate variability studies, improved aviation flight route planning, and better monitoring of space weather to improve geomagnetic storm forecasting.
The instruments now integrated on GOES-R for its mission are:
- The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) alone will provide over 80 percent of all the mission data. It’s the primary instrument for imaging Earth’s weather, oceans, and environment with 16 different spectral bands (compared to five on current GOES), including two visible channels, four near-infrared channels, and 10 infrared channels.
- The Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), which are critical to understanding and monitoring the power and effect of the Sun’s electromagnetic radiation in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, will detect solar flares that could interrupt communications and reduce navigational accuracy, affecting satellites, high altitude airlines, and power grids on Earth.
- The Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), which is a single-channel, near-infrared optical transient detector that will measure total lightning activity continuously over North America and its adjacent ocean regions with near uniform spatial resolution of approximately 10 km, providing early predictions of intensifying storms and severe weather events.
- The Magnetometer (MAG), which will provide measurements of Earth’s space environment magnetic field that controls charged particle dynamics in the outer region of the magnetosphere that can be dangerous to spacecraft and human spaceflight (ISS).
- The Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), which is comprised of four sensors that will monitor proton, electron, and heavy ion fluxes at geosynchronous orbit, will provide information critical for assessing the electrostatic discharge (ESD) risk and radiation hazard to astronauts and satellites.
- The Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), which is a telescope that monitors the Sun in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength range and will be able to compile full disk solar images around the clock.
“We’re very excited about the new channels and higher resolution of the ABI, which will help NOAA’s Hurricane Center (NHC) monitor tropical cyclones. The data also have the potential to improve track forecasts when they’re included in numerical models,” said James Franklin, branch chief, Hurricane Specialist Unit, NHC. “We also think GLM could help us better anticipate tropical cyclone rapid intensification periods. These new instruments on GOES-R represent a vast potential for future improvements.”
Together the GOES-R satellite and its instrument suite will provide images of weather patterns and severe storms as often as every 30 seconds, which will result in faster, more reliable and accurate weather forecasts and severe weather alerts for events such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, dense fog, and flash floods. In the U.S. alone over $3 trillion of the economy is weather-sensitive, and each year billions of dollars are lost due to destroyed crops, damaged property, and loss of life. Area evacuations alone cost approximately $1 million per coastal mile evacuated, and so having faster and more accurate storm track predictions for hurricanes and tropical storms would prevent unnecessary evacuations and help better predict where those dynamic storms will have the most impact.
In the end, the information the GOES satellites give meteorologists directly affects public safety, protection of property, and, ultimately, economic health and development.
“Future GOES-R imagery, combined with its new lightning measurements, will provide NOAA Storm Prediction Center (SPC) forecasters with unprecedented observations of developing severe storms,” said SPC Director Russell Schneider. “This will increase the accuracy of our warning messages for communities across the United States.”
They will also monitor hazards in the atmosphere such as aerosols, dust storms, volcanic eruptions, and forest fires, in addition to terrestrial weather and space weather monitoring, as well as supporting research in oceanography, climate monitoring, performing in-situ data collection, and even aiding with search and rescue operations.
GOES-R is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida sometime in March 2016. Once on orbit the satellite will operate from 75º W and 137º W, and is expected to serve its purpose until at least the end of 2027.
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