GOES-16 Satellite Returns First Lightning Mapping Images Like Never Seen Before

The Geostationary Lightning Mapper, built by Lockheed Martin, now tracks lightning strikes across North and South America, giving new insight into storm development and delivering faster severe weather alerts. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

This week NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the first images from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instrument onboard the GOES-16 satellite. Formerly identified as GOES-R before launch and renamed GOES-16 after entering service, the 6,170-pound Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft was launched atop a ULA Atlas-V 541 booster from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station last November, promising to represent a quantum leap in weather-watching capability over its many predecessors.

Having now undergone several months of extensive checkouts and preparations for an expected decade of operational service, GOES-16’s first images are just the beginning of continuous lightning tracking – from 22,300 miles above the earth.

GOES-R (now GOES-16) launching atop an Atlas-V 541 booster from SLC-41 on November 19, 2016. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

“GLM is a first-of-a-kind capability for lightning monitoring at geostationary orbit,” said Jeff Vanden Beukel, Lockheed Martin GOES-R instruments director. “Seeing individual lightning strikes from 22,300 miles away is an incredible feat, plus we’re monitoring cloud-to-cloud lightning for the first time. All this will give forecasters better data to give people on the ground, at sea and in the air faster severe weather warning.”

GOES-16’s GLM is the first operational lightning mapper ever flown in geostationary orbit, shooting hundreds of images each second to monitor frequency, location and extent of lightning discharges across the Americas, and provides continuous day-and-night measurements of intra-cloud lightning associated with severe storms.

In its first weeks of service alone it has already produced more lightning data than all previous lightning data from space – combined.

In a video released by NOAA on March 6 of the first images from GOES-16’s GLM, lightning illuminates storms developing over southeast Texas on the morning of February 14, 2017. The animation is of GLM lightning events overlaid on Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) cloud imagery, and shows frequent lightning occurring with the convective cells embedded in the severe weather system.

From NOAA:

“The green cross indicates the location of Houston, and green dotted lines indicate the Texas coastline. Rendered at 25 frames per second, the animation simulates what your naked eye might see from above the clouds.

GLM perceives the scene at 500 frames per second, and can distinguish the location, intensity and horizontal propagation of individual strokes within each lightning flash. Monitoring the flash rate from convective cells and their extent can help forecasters improve tornado and severe weather forecasts and warnings and their impending threat to the public. At the time of this animation, the storm cell in the center of the frame was reported by the NWS to have spawned one of a number of tornadoes and damaging winds spawned by the storm complex.”

The data for the animation, however, is only preliminary, non-operational data as GOES-16 underwent on-orbit testing, but still very neat to see nonetheless.

A Quantum Leap in Earth Weather Watching

GOES-16 is the first of a series of four next-generation satellites in the GOES-R program, and marks the 17th spacecraft of the GOES series (though only the 16th to successfully achieve orbit when one counts the ill-fated GOES-G). Operated by the United States’ National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), the multi-spacecraft GOES network is responsible for weather forecasting, storm tracking, and meteorological research from geostationary orbit.

READ our in-depth reporting on the GOES program history HERE

The three-axis-stabilized GOES-16 boasts three times more spectral information, four times higher spatial resolution, five times faster coverage, and significantly enhanced functionality over its predecessors in providing advance warnings of storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and solar-induced events, ranging from geomagnetic storms to Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs).

Along with the spacecraft’s Earth Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument (for visible and infrared observations of our planet’s weather and climate), it is hoped that the combined data will improve warning times ahead of tornadoes, as well as aiding the development of climatological models, thunderstorm warnings, and improving aviation weather services.

The Solar Ultraviolet Imager, built by Lockheed Martin, now delivers the fastest warning time of solar storms, which can knock out satellites in orbit and power grids on Earth. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

Last week NOAA also released the first images from the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) instrument onboard the satellite, which gives faster warning for solar storms. Just the size of a gym bag, SUVI observes the sun in six extreme ultraviolet channels and compiles full disk images—or complete views of the sun—around the clock. Data from SUVI also provides estimated coronal plasma temperatures and solar emission measurements.

“We built SUVI so it can deliver solar storm warning faster than any other space instrument, plus an upgrade in resolution over current GOES systems,” said Vanden Beukel. “Solar storms can cause blackouts here on Earth and shut down satellites in orbit. Faster warning lets us protect these assets before disaster strikes.”


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  1. Mike,
    Great Article…I would like to see NOAA funding completely separated from NASA so that it can provide a continuous science programs with the worry of budget cuts because of the High Risk programs that NASA partakes in. Seems kind of silly that when additional funds are needed earth science is gutted first.

  2. SE Jones,
    My mistake I was confused with Human Flight vs Robotic Exploration in the NASA budget….But does NOAA use NASA for Spacecraft launch and monitoring? If so could they do that in house cheaper and use private space for launch and monitoring?

  3. in house cheaper and use private space for launch

    That’s the $64k question. It’s complicated. NOAA is primarily an “operational” agency, while NASA is chartered with doing R&D. If you want to advance the state-of-the-art in instrumentation, NOAA must work with NASA, NSF and university consortiums. But, the newer GOES spacecraft have suffered from scandalous cost overruns and schedule slips, causing much consternation among the stakeholders.

    When you contrast the development of NOAAs GOES against (most) NASA planetary exploration missions, it’s clear that nothing sharpens the mind like a launch window! The other planets won’t wait, but GEO is always right there.

    It may be we are entering an era of more “swarms” of small, commercially made LEO sats, over larger “Battle Star Galactica” GEO sats.

    • SE Jones,
      I agree with you that much smaller much less spacecraft are the future. Though I wonder at times if having the larger dataset will allow to much science in the green religion of “climate change” considering that so many have counted on the carbon tax to pay for their ocean condos, sport cars, planes etc.

    • SE Jones,

      In Trumps new NASA budget the total cut to the Earth-science budget is $102 million, or 5 percent of the program’s annual budget, and it almost exclusively targets missions aimed at understanding climate change — the ocean monitoring program PACE; the Orbiting Carbon ­Observatory-3; the Deep Space Climate Observatory; and the CLARREO Pathfinder, which measures heat in Earth’s atmosphere.

      I don’t understand why any of these costs are part of NASA and Not part of NOAA. NASA needs to be only Space activity NOT Earth. What say you?

  4. Note:

    “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates satellites that have dramatically improved weather forecasting in recent decades. The infrastructure investments in space-based weather monitoring have paid for themselves many times over. For example, without data from NOAA’s weather satellites, meteorologists would have falsely told East Coast Americans that Hurricane Sandy was heading out to sea, instead of alerting them of the urgent need to evacuate as the deadly storm barreled up the East Coast.”

    And, “The U.S. Air Force, for example, runs the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS). Everyday American’s enjoy GPS’ help in navigating with their smartphones, but GPS also provides critical data for America’s electrical, transportation, communications, and even financial systems. According to one study, annual GPS’ economic benefits are nearly half a percent of the entire American Gross Domestic Product.”

    And, “Take a tour of most NASA or Air Force space facilities and you will see buildings that predate Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the Moon and that have been postponing badly needed maintenance since the end of the Cold War. Space is an inspiring part of America’s history, but the country’s space facilities should represent the technological state of the art, not a rusting time capsule from the 1960s.”

    From: ‘If Trump is serious about investing in infrastructure that will make America great, he must not forget about the country’s infrastructure in space.’
    By Greg Allen 2/24/2017
    At: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/321046-want-to-build-infrastructure-that-will-make-america-great-look

    Greg Allen also called in to ‘The Space Show’ on 2/26/2017 to talk with Dr. Paul Spudis and Dr. David Livingston:


    • Oh that’s rich, Allen’s text copied & pasted by James, the #2 Spudis fanboy.

      And James’s answer for infrastructure issues, is to force NASA to squander over $1 million a year to maintain an unused launch pad in the vain fantasy that the agency will somehow find the money to fly dozens of his beloved, pork-barrel, mismanaged, grossly (decade+) delayed SLS/Orion to the moon.

      • “Oklahoma Republican lawmaker Jim Bridenstine, who has told Trump he wants to be the next NASA administrator, has praised cooperation between the US space agency and private industry, and called for a return to Moon mission as a way to boost needed resources on Earth, such as water.”

        And, “Research has shown billions of tons of water ice can be found at each lunar pole.”

        And, “‘Water ice on the Moon could be used to refuel satellites in orbit or perform on-orbit maintenance,’ he wrote in a blog post in December.”

        And, “‘Government and commercial satellite operators could save hundreds of millions of dollars by servicing their satellites with resources from the Moon rather than disposing of, and replacing, their expensive investments.'”

        From: ‘Under Trump, the Moon regains interest as possible destination’
        By Jean-Louis SANTINI March 12, 2017
        At: https://www.yahoo.com/news/under-trump-moon-regains-interest-possible-destination-060128841.html

        Yep, “SLS/Orion to the moon”!

  5. “…a return to Moon mission as a way to boost needed resources on Earth, such as water.” – Bridenstine

    boost needed resources on Earth, such as water ooookay. So we’re gonna go from the merely financially and programmatically dubious, the to completely batsh*# crazy.

  6. James,
    Perhaps the cut and paste could be interrupted by your personal comments. You are a pretty smart 15 year old.

    • I’m close to 65, but I’m posting to SE Jones who is like a 5 year old waanabe Martian having a temper tantrum…

    • I’m close to 65, but I’m posting to SE Jones who is like a 5 year old wannabe Martian having a temper tantrum…

    • Lots of science, engineering, government, and business folks are thinking and talking seriously about tapping and using Lunar resources.

      It would be easy to ‘mine’ iron from Lunar surface dust with a magnet. Lunar iron would be an excellent Galactic Cosmic Radiation shielding material for weather satellites, space stations, and other spacecraft in Cislunar Space.

      “The Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy today announced that leading experts from China and South Korea join the international Advisory Board, which guides the Luxembourg Government
      in shaping and developing its SpaceResources.lu initiative which aims to promote commercial use of resources gathered from celestial bodies such as asteroids or from the Moon.”

      From: ‘Experts from China and South Korea join the Luxembourg Government’s SpaceResources.lu initiative as high-level advisors’ Luxembourg March 8, 2017
      At: http://www.spaceresources.public.lu/en/press-corner/press/2017_03_03-SpaceResources_lu_Press-Release_FINAL.pdf

      • “…Galactic Cosmic Radiation shielding material for weather satellites”…easy to ‘mine’ iron from Lunar surface dust with a magnet”

        #1: sats in GEO do not need more shielding, existing weather & comm sats typically operate reliably for over a decade until station-keeping propellant is exhausted and/or the instruments and electronics are superseded by newer, more advanced designs.
        (the above comment is driven home by the new Boeing 702 all-electric comm sats which take months to traverse the Van Allen belts with no problem)

        #2: iron is the last thing you’d want to use for Galactic Cosmic Ray (GCR) shielding, GCRs are relativistic ions, and ions are moderated by the electronic stopping function of the electron clouds in the shield material, so you want hydrogen (or the oxide of hydrogen) where there is low probability of nuclear interactions causing showers of secondaries (“shrapnel” in the vernacular).

        #3: gathering iron in the Lunar regolith with a magnet, would be stunningly expensive even if it did make sense in the first place (which it does not), because weather and comm satellites are made in places like Seattle, Denver, Milan, or Taufkichen, places served by the intricate, enormous, globally connected aerospace supply chain.

        • High density radiation shielding materials are useful for satellites:

          “Therefore, to achieve the ideal shield, multi layered shield consisting of layers with high and low densities is suitable. Depending on the radiation environment, the optimal thickness of each light and heavy layer, their material and arrangement can be declared. Arrangement of the layers also influences doses received by an electronic device which is sensitive to radiation. High density shield materials (such as Tungsten and Tantalum) and low density materials (such as polyethylene) can be considered as an ideal shield [1, 4]. Also, some materials like Boron (B¹º), liquid hydrogen, lead, enriched plastics with oxygen are named as shield.”

          From: ‘Shielding protection of electronic circuits against radiation effects of space high energy particles’ By Omid Zeynali, Daryoush Masti, and Saeed Gandomkar
          At: file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/think/%E6%A1%8C%E9%9D%A2/Radiation%20Risk/shielding-protection-of-electronic-circuits-against-radiation-effects-of-spacehigh-energy-particles.pdf

        • “Graded-Z shielding is a laminate of several materials with different Z values (atomic numbers) designed to protect against ionizing radiation. Compared to single-material shielding, the same mass of graded-Z shielding has been shown to reduce electron penetration over 60%.[8] It is commonly used in satellite-based particle detectors, offering several benefits:

          protection from radiation damage
          reduction of background noise for detectors
          lower mass compared to single-material shielding

          Designs vary, but typically involve a gradient from high-Z (usually tantalum) through successively lower-Z elements such as tin, steel, and copper, usually ending with aluminium. Sometimes even lighter materials such as polypropylene or boron carbide are used. [9][10]”

          From: ‘Radiation protection’ Wikipedia
          At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_protection

          – Used for both photon and neutron shield, relative low
          cost, easy to cast to different shapes, good structural
          properties, modular and moveable
          • Portland concrete, density in the range of 2.3-2.4 g cm-3
          – Heavy materials can be added in the concrete aggregate,
          barites or iron ore, to increase its density and average Z,
          density of heavy concrete can exceed 4.5 g cm”

          “Shielding Materials
          • Iron– Density ~ 7.0 g cm-3; steel density is typically around 7.9 g cm-3
          – Steel, in conjunction with hydrogenous materials such as
          concrete, is used for shielding of high-energy neutrons
          (several tens of MeV)”

          From: Pages 56 and 57 of ‘Radiation Shielding at High-Energy Electron and Proton Accelerators’
          By Sayed H. Rokni and James C. Liu Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC)
          and J. Donald Cossairt
          Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FNAL)
          At: http://hpschapters.org/sections/accelerator/PDS/6Shield_Rokni.pdf

  7. “Everyone has set sights on the moon.

    And, “Now Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin wants in on the moon party, too.”

    From: ‘Blue Origin Teases Cargo Spaceship for a Moon Base’ By Jay Bennett
    Popular Mechanics March 8, 2017
    At: https://www.yahoo.com/news/blue-origin-teases-cargo-spaceship-182917805.html

    “Either way, Blue Origin believes it can have a ‘Blue Moon’ lander (based on New Shepard’s vertical-landing technology) ready and able to begin moon landings as early as July 2020.”

    And, “Incidentally, Bezos argues that such a lunar settlement is a necessary precursor to the manned Mars mission that NASA is planning to conduct circa 2034: ‘I think that if you go to the Moon first and make the Moon your home, then you can get to Mars more easily.'”

    From: ‘Blue Origin Boss Jeff Bezos Lays Out His Plan for Space’
    Space tourism, orbital manufacturing, and, one day, a colony on the Moon.’
    Rich Smith March 6, 2017 at: The Motley Fool

    “Here is an important point. The debt Congress has run up on our behalf is $62,000 per citizen. But the rest ($56,000 per citizen in debt), we’ve taken on ourselves.

    But wait, there’s more. Corporate and nonfinancial businesses have also run up debt—roughly another $20 trillion. Total debt in the US is around $65 trillion today, or roughly a 340% debt-to-GDP ratio.”

    From: ‘America’s debt problem is going the way of Italy’ By John Mauldin March 12, 2017
    At: http://www.businessinsider.com/us-following-italys-lead-2017-3

    Sorry SE Jones. No taxpayer money is available anytime soon for your and Elon’s trillion dollar Martian Colony fantasies that clearly lack the business potential to make a real contribution to America and the Home Planet.

    The Moon is close and has potentially valuable resources and industrialization opportunities.

    Doable and affordable International Orion and SLS Lunar and Cislunar missions offer real, valuable, and obvious diplomatic and exploration options for America and the Home Planet.

    And if we Americans cannot figure out how to gain significant diplomatic benefits and make lots of money out of leading in finding and tapping Lunar resources and developing the Moon to accelerate the ongoing development of the rest of Cislunar Space, how many folks in Congress and elsewhere are going to be foolish enough to invest any significant amount of money on human Mars colonies?

  8. James,
    I am thinking that we need to audit the Federal Reserve to confirm the amount of American government indebtedness. I don’t believe the $20T is accurate….I think Trump pointed out this same thing.

  9. Good idea. And audit Silicon Valley and its cozy secret deals with the Deep State and you might find out how taxpayer money eventually gets bundled and funneled into the Democratic Party… Nahh, no one would be brave enough to do that audit.

    Shut down the cozy secret Silicon Valley deals with the Deep State and there might be lots of money for new weather satellites and a whole lot more in Cislunar Space.

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