NASA to launch new weather satellite

GOES-S will scan the Earth five times faster and at four times the image

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – According to NASA, on Thursday, March 1, they will launch NOAA’s newest weather satellite, GOES-S, which will scan the Earth five times faster and at four times the image resolution. GOES-S is the second of NOAA’s new series of advanced geostationary weather satellites. With it, the United States will now have two of the most advanced weather satellites working in tandem to provide unprecedented coverage across the entire U.S. and most of the Western Hemisphere, from the west coast of Africa to New Zealand. This includes the northeastern Pacific, the birthplace of many weather systems that affect the continental U.S., and where there is comparatively little data.

Q&A with NOAA's Director of the Office of Satellite and Product Operations Vanessa Griffin

Jonathan Stacey: How will GOES-S impact weather forecasting?

Vanessa Griffin: The advantage of having two satellites in orbit with the same technology, and the same advanced capabilities that we've already seen now with GOES-16. By having two we have full coverage of the Western hemisphere, so we'll be able to see weather systems with the kind of detail and the kind of higher refresh rates that we get from the new GOES-R satellites over the Pacific.

Certainly understanding the weather systems that are to our west as they are moving in is very important is for improving our weather forecasting. So having two satellites having complete coverage from the GOES-E and GOES-W is going to be very important and very beneficial to weather forecasting.

Stacey: Here in Florida we have two significant weather phenomenon that happen all of the time fog and lightening, specifically how will GOES-S help us with that forecasting? 

Griffin: Let's talk about lightening first. For the first time from a geostationary platform we will have lightening data from a satellite. We've flown satellites in the past at lower altitudes with lightening, but this will give us a look a lightening like this image here over the United States, both at night and during the daytime. And we have not yet begun to fully determine how beneficial that's going to be. We are seeing advantages already of tracking storms. We think their lightning signals that will help us improve detection as well as storm forecasting as well storm forecasting for convection.

Fog. Of course the advantage of GOES-R are the GOES-R series satellites, now GOES-S is that we get the data more frequently and we get more information and we get it at a much higher resolution. So we will do a better job at being able to forecast when fog is lifting or dissipating. We've already seen that with GOES-16, for example, when were able to remove a fog warning or fog hold on an airport early by using the information from GOES-16. 

Stacey: There are actually some economic benefits as well...

Griffin: Obviously, tropical storms and providing better warnings, providing very focused warnings is very important. Obviously, saving lives a property is what weather satellites is what the benefit is to the nation, so we'll see those benefits. But we will also see advantages both in fighting forest fires and in determining air pollution monitoring from fires, a lot other advantages as well as of course monitoring severe weather and giving the nation a little more advanced warning of things so they can prepare.

Stacey: What exactly is a geostationary satellite?

Griffin: So we actually have to kinds of satellites that NOAA operates both polar orbiting satellites and geostationary. The geostationary ones, if you think about the earth and the satellite and the satellite is at 22,000 miles out. Where that is, the speed of the satellite where that is at it revolves around the earth exactly matches the speed of the earth as it is turning. So it looks like the satellite never moves, so it stays right over the same place over the earth. By having the satellite do that we are able to watch the clouds and the storms beneath the satellite and see where they are moving in that frame of reference. So it gives us a great frame of reference, it give us full move loops of the storms as they are developing as they are moving as they are coming onshore in the case of a hurricane. All of this information that is real-time video of the storms is what is so beneficial from geostationary satellites."

Stacey: When will the satellite be operational?

Griffin: So we will launch GOES-S next week as soon as it gets to orbit and get stable in its orbit position we will relabel it GOES-17, so then we will start doing all of our post launch testing. It takes about six months to really check out the satellite, the systems, the instruments to make sure everything is working and to make sure all of the products we are starting to use from GOES-16 work the same on GOES-17. It takes about six months. Then later at the end of the year, we will actually move the satellite, GOES-17, into its operation as the position as the GOES-West satellite.

Stacey: The satellite will also allow us to certain features in the atmosphere though its 16 different channels...

Griffin: The satellite itself, the primary instrument on board as 16 channels of information so we use that so we can manipulate the information from those channels to determine things, unique things that we could not determine before about the environment, about the atmosphere between the satellite and the earth. And of course, we will have various venues of putting that data out, so people will be able to get a hold of that data and be able to use in near real-time.

According to NASA, the new GOES-S satellite has triple the number of channels from older geostationary weather satellites, which allow it to see in different wavelengths of light, including a new near-infrared band, which can discern between snow, ice and clouds. GOES-S will track storm systems, lightning, wildfires, coastal fog and other weather hazards that threaten the U.S. – particularly in the western U.S., Hawaii and Alaska. It will also give forecasters and emergency responders more time to prepare for severe weather across the U.S. as storm systems move east. GOES-S is a joint collaboration between NOAA and NASA.

NOAA's website details, “We’ll soon see the value of having two sophisticated geostationary satellites in operation, not only in the amount of lives saved through more accurate forecasts, but in cost savings throughout the economy,” said Stephen Volz, Ph.D., director, NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. “With GOES-S and GOES-16, we are able to cover about half the planet with the most sophisticated weather forecast technology ever flown in space.” In tandem with GOES-16, the first satellite in NOAA’s new geostationary series and now in the GOES-East position, the two satellites will observe most of the Western Hemisphere, from the west coast of Africa to New Zealand. This includes the northeastern Pacific, the birthplace of many weather systems that affect the continental U.S., and where there is comparatively little data. When it’s operational later this year, GOES-S will take up the GOES-West position.

The Spacecraft

The Launch Vehicle that will place the GOES-16 into geosynchronous orbit will be an Atlas V 541. The three numbers in the 541 designation signify a payload fairing, or nose cone, that is

approximately 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter; four solid-rocket boosters fastened alongside the central common core booster; and a one-engine Centaur upper stage.

A launch vehicle is chosen based on how much mass the vehicle can lift into space. A two-stage Atlas V 541 launch vehicle was selected for the GOES-16 launch because it has the right liftoff capability for the heavy weight requirements.

The GOES-16 satellite will weigh 6,173 pounds, or 2,800 kilograms at launch. The launch vehicle is 191 feet tall and will weigh 1.17 million pounds

Stage 1: Atlas V Rocket: Fuel and oxygen tanks that feed an engine for the ascent; powers spacecraft into Earth orbit.  

Stage 2: Centaur: Fuel and oxidizer and the vehicle's "brains"; fires twice, once to insert the vehicle-spacecraft stack into low Earth orbit.

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