NOAA’s new weather satellite reaches geostationary orbit; promises improvement in weather forecasting
The nation’s most advanced weather satellite has reached geostationary orbit and will soon begin helping the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration improve weather forecasting.
Capable of imaging the entire western hemisphere of Earth every 15 minutes and the continental United States every five minutes, GOES-16 is expected to improve NOAA’s ability to predict and track thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes and anticipate solar activity that can impact human activities on Earth.
“The next generation of weather satellites is finally here,” NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in a statement released after the satellite was launched Nov. 19. “GOES-R is one of the most sophisticated Earth-observing platforms ever devised.”
Sullivan was referring to the generic name for the series of satellites to be launched in the next several years, of which GOES-16 is the first.
The key to GOES-16’s likely impact on meteorology is the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI).
Basically a sophisticated photography instrument, ABI will observe Earth across 16 bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. That is an improvement from weather satellites currently in orbit, which can only make use of five spectral bands.
ABI will also provide a four-fold increase in image resolution and transmit data back to Earth five times faster than is possible with current satellites.
GOES-16 is also equipped with a device that permits the mapping of lightning. The Geostationary Lightning Mapper detects short duration changes in near-infrared radiation, which indicates the presence of atmospheric electrical activity. GLM will operate over North America and South America and the marine areas immediately adjacent to those continents.
A device on the satellite known as Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors will detect solar flares, which will in turn assist ground-based agencies in preserving communication and navigation capability when the flares occur.
Another instrument, the Solar Ultraviolet Imager, will allow for observation of other solar activity such as coronal holes and coronal mass ejections. These events can subject satellites and even the International Space Station to risks of increased radiation and disrupt Earth-based communications, navigation, and transmission of electricity.
The GOES-16 satellite is powered by a solar array.
Clifford F. Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said that the potential of the GOES-16 satellite to improve accuracy of forecasts is significant. He explained that the challenge will be to make the most optimal use of the data it provides.
“How do you use the sensor information to create a physically consistent three-dimensional simulation of the atmosphere? That’s something that can be worked on.”
Weather satellites have been crucial to meteorology since the first, TIROS-1, was launched by NASA on April 1, 1960. Since then countries including China, India, Japan, and Russia have joined the United States in building an extensive network of weather satellites in orbit.
Geostationary weather satellites, which permit constant observation of large areas on Earth’s surface, premiered in December 1966 when ATS-1 was sent skyward. In the 1970s NOAA began deployment of the GOES series of satellites, which work in pairs to observe atmospheric conditions from the west coast of Africa to the western Pacific Ocean.
Altogether the U.S. has sent at least 58 weather satellites into orbit.
The first in NOAA’s new Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series, the 2,800 kilogram-sized GOES-16 is now 35,800 kilometers away from Earth.
GOES-16, which earned its name when it reached stationary orbit above the equator on Nov. 29, is designed for ten years of operation. It will commence observations and data transmission next year, after testing of its instruments is completed.
The launch of GOES-16 does not address an ongoing concern among meteorologists that a gap in weather satellite coverage at the planet’s poles might occur. A 2016 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office said that the risk that an existing satellite in polar orbit might fail could leave a lapse of coverage before the launch of a new spacecraft, JPSS-1, in March 2017.