New NOAA Weather Satellite On Its Way to GEO

New NOAA Weather Satellite On Its Way to GEO

A new NOAA weather satellite lifted off from Kennedy Space Center this evening enroute to geostationary orbit above the equator. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U, or GOES-U, is the fourth and last in a series of advanced meteorological satellites that provide greatly improved data over their predecessors. This one has an added feature — a coronagraph to help monitor the Sun and warn of solar storms.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launched GOES-U at 5:26 pm ET, just 10 minutes later than planned despite a gloomy weather forecast. During a pre-launch briefing yesterday, Brian Cizek, the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron’s launch officer for this mission, joked that he felt the “weight of the weather world on my shoulders” since this was a weather satellite and the forecast was only 30 percent favorable. Fortunately the storms coming from the west held off just long enough.

GOES-U lifted off into beautiful blue skies to the east as one of the GOES satellites currently in orbit, GOES-East, showed the incoming thunderstorms as it took flight.

Looking east the skies are clear for the Falcon Heavy rocket with the GOES-U meteorological satellite 3:20 minutes before launch. June 25, 2024. Screengrab.


The Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters flew back to land at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station adjacent to Kennedy Space Center.  No attempt was made to recover the center booster.

Two Falcon Heavy side boosters just before landing at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, FL, after launching NOAA’s GOES-U meteorological satellite. June 25, 2024. Credit: SpaceX.

GOES-U is the last of the “GOES-R” series of advanced meteorological satellites that NOAA began building more than a decade ago. GOES-R itself was launched in 2016, followed by GOES-S in 2018, and GOES-T in 2020. Once in space they are assigned numbers instead of letters — GOES-16, GOES-17, and GOES-18 respectively. GOES-U will be GOES-19.

Geostationary orbit (GEO) is 22,200 miles (35,800 kilometers) above the equator. Satellites placed there maintain a fixed position relative to a point on Earth and are very useful for weather observations of large regions of the planet. Just two satellites, positioned over the Atlantic and the Pacific, can see all of the United States and most of the rest of North and South America and adjacent ocean waters. Whichever satellite is over the Atlantic is “GOES-East” and over the Pacific is “GOES-West.” A spare satellite is kept in between. Once operational GOES-U will take the GOES-East position.

GOES-U is the only satellite in this series with a coronagraph to study the Sun and help forecast “space weather” — ejections from the Sun that not only create beautiful auroras like those seen in many parts of the northern hemisphere in May, but can damage electronics on satellites in orbit and the electric grid on Earth. The Compact Coronagraph or CCOR-1 was built by the Naval Research Laboratory.

The GOES-R series will meet NOAA’s needs for the rest of the decade, but the agency is already working on what comes next — GEO Extended Operations or GeoXO.  The first is planned for launch in 2032.

NASA procures weather satellites for NOAA, while NOAA operates them. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement tonight that “NASA and NOAA have worked together for several decades to bring critical data back down to Earth to prepare for severe storms, fire detection, and much more. This fleet of advanced satellites is strengthening resilience to our changing climate, and protecting humanity from weather hazards on Earth, and in space.”

NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said “GOES-U will combine high definition with advanced speed and precision to the real-time observations it will capture, which will help improve the accuracy and timeliness of our weather forecasts” and “ensure these critical data are available to NOAA forecasters into the 2030s.”

Lockheed Martin built the GOES-R series spacecraft and two of their instruments, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) and Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUI).  L3Harris provides the main instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), and the ground system. Other instruments are from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

Falcon Heavy placed GOES-U into a geostationary transfer orbit four-and-a-half hours after launch.

The satellite now will use its own propulsion system over the next two weeks to reach its final operating orbit in GEO where it will undergo an extensive checkout and validation phase. It will begin operations in mid-2025, replacing GOES-16.

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