Changing out satellites: NOAA GOES-16 is moves into operational position

Newer satellite to replace GOES-13 as primary satellite monitoring the skies


JACKSONVILLE, Fl. – If you enjoy viewing the incredible depiction of clouds from space taken by the new GOES-16 satellite, you’ll have to wait a while before those images are made available again.

NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service division says the newest and most advanced geostationary weather satellite, will begin moving into its operational orbit on November 30 - just over a year after it was first launched. 

According to NOAA, after a three-week transition period known as "drift", GOES-16 will replace NOAA GOES-13 as the primary satellite monitoring the skies over eastern North America and the western Atlantic Ocean. Here is everything you need to know about GOES-16's journey to its new orbital position.

When you hear the term "drift," you may think of a satellite floating aimlessly through space. In reality, drifting a satellite is a highly scripted maneuver. What exactly happens when NOAA GOES-16 starts to drift and why is there a lag time before the satellite becomes fully operational? 
Let's start with the basics.

On November 30, GOES-16 will begin moving east. Normally, a geosynchronous satellite like GOES-16 remains in a fixed position in the sky relative to Earth's rotation. This won't be the case once the drift process gets underway. Currently positioned at 89.3 degrees west (roughly the longitude of New Orleans, Louisiana), GOES-16 will embark upon an 11-day journey, moving eastward at a rate of 1.41 degrees longitude per day. By December 11, the satellite will reach its new operating position, at 75.2 degrees west (roughly the longitude of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). 

During its relocation, GOES-16's five main instruments (ABI, GLM, SUVI, SEISS, and EXIS) will be turned off and placed in safe or diagnostic mode. These are the high-tech sensors that allow us to do things like map lightning flashes to track thunderstorms or monitor solar flares from space.

When GOES-16 begins drifting, all of this data collection will be disabled. Features such as the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system will be also go off-line.
After drifting for 11 days, GOES-16 will reach its new permanent vantage point - 22,300 miles above Earth - on December 11. However, the satellite will remain off-line for a short while. The delay occurs because the satellite's instruments first have to be calibrated, a process that can take anywhere from three to nine days. During the calibration period (from December 11-14), all of GOES-16's instruments return to their normal imaging modes and the transmitters aboard the spacecraft get turned back on.

NOAA's Office of Satellite and Product Operations (OSPO) will monitor the instruments to make sure they are working properly. If everything checks out, the instruments can start collecting and transmitting a plethora of weather data and imagery back to Earth. NOAA's mission operations team expects GOES-16 to be back online and fully operational by December 20th.