spaceSpace and Physics

NASA's Awesome New Weather Satellite Will Observe Storms On Earth In Almost Real-Time


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Artist's impression of GOES-R in orbit. NASA

This past weekend, NASA launched the most advanced weather satellite ever in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And it’s going to be seriously impressive when it becomes operational.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R, or GOES-R for short, was launched atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Saturday. It will greatly reduce the refresh time of existing satellites that observe weather on Earth, meaning we’ll be able to track events in almost real-time.


“The next generation of weather satellites is finally here,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan in a statement.


The satellite will be the 16th in the GOES series, of which only several are still operational. These satellites have been used to forecast weather, track severe storms, and more on Earth since 1975.

Now with GOES-R, though, which will be renamed GOES-16 when it reaches its geostationary orbit 35,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) high and becomes operational, things are about to get a lot more accurate. This satellite has a number of sophisticated instruments that will observe weather on Earth like never before.


Take, for example, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). This advanced camera will be capable of taking an image of the entire Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes, or a specific region every 30 seconds, giving a much more precise view of events like hurricanes. Current GOES satellites can only scan the entire hemisphere every three hours, and a specific region every 15 minutes.

More than 65 percent of the satellite’s data will center around the ABI, making it the primary instrument. It will even be able to monitor the formation of clouds and help aircraft avoid turbulent flight paths.

An animation of the ABI (left) in action compared to previous GOES satellites. Taken from YouTube, with a hat-tip to Reddit

Another interesting instrument is the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), which will take continuous measurements of lightning within clouds. This will be the first lightning mapper instrument to be flown in geostationary orbit, measuring the frequency and location of lightning strikes.


The satellite has four other instruments, two of which will observe the Sun and another two that will monitor space itself. The first two will monitor active regions on the Sun and solar flares, while the latter will assess radiation hazards in this region of space and measure the magnetic field in the region.

All in all, it’s going to be a pretty impressive piece of kit. Three more GOES satellites in this series, dubbed S, T, and U, will help NOAA to continue monitoring Earth from geostationary orbit until 2036.


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