NOAA’s Newest Weather Satellite, GOES-S, Ready for Launch

NOAA’s Newest Weather Satellite, GOES-S, Ready for Launch

NOAA will add another advanced weather satellite to its geostationary constellation one month from now.  GOES-S, the second of the “GOES-R” series, is scheduled for launch on March 1.  In a media teleconference today (February 1), NOAA officials explained the capabilities of this new generation of satellites and the possibility that the Air Force make want to use one of the older versions.

NOAA operates the nation’s civil weather satellites, including a set of polar-orbiting satellites that can view the entire globe and another set that is in geostationary orbit (GEO) above equator.  Satellites in GEO maintain a fixed position relative to a point on Earth and are particularly useful for monitoring tropical regions where hurricanes form.

Artist’s illustration of GOES-S weather satellite. Credit: NOAA website.

The GEO satellites are called GOES —  Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites — and NOAA is in the process of replacing the existing satellites with advanced versions with much greater capabilities.

NOAA keeps two  GOES satellites operational at any given time.  One is positioned to see the eastern portion of the United States and adjacent waters (GOES-East) and the other to see the western portion (GOES-West).

The newest versions were procured as a block of four spacecraft that are generically referred to as the “GOES-R” series.  Prior to launch they have letter designations: GOES-R, GOES-S, GOES-T and GOES-U.  GOES-R itself was launched in 2016 and is now operational in the GOES-East location.  Once in orbit, NOAA gives them numbers.  GOES-R is now GOES-16.

Now NOAA is getting ready to launch GOES-S, which will become GOES-17 and placed in the GOES-West location once it is operational.  NOAA expects that will occur by the end of the year after several months of testing and validation.

The GOES-R series is a “revolutionary” advance over the previous satellites according to NOAA officials.  The Lockheed Martin-built satellites can scan the Earth five times faster, have four times the image resolution, and three times as many channels providing “more accurate, reliable forecasts and severe weather outlooks.”

GOES-S will provide improved tracking of storm systems, lightning, wildfires, dense fog, and other hazards for the western continental United States, Hawaii, and Alaska.

Tim Walsh, acting director of the GOES-R program, said today that although the look angle of the new satellite will be the same as before, its improved spatial resolution allows better views of the Earth’s limb.  With GOES-S in the GOES-West location, “we’ll see features in Alaska that we were previously” not able to see and support local meteorological forecasters there better than in the past.

NOAA officials at the teleconference declined to say today how much GOES-S or any of the other satellites cost individually.  Instead, they use the total life-cycle cost for the four-satellite series on the basis that the satellite and ground system development costs and operations costs are shared.  The last two satellites, GOES-T and GOES-U, will be launched in the 2020s and are expected to operate through 2036, so the life-cycle costs include operations through that year.   NOAA estimates the life-cycle cost of the series at $10.9 billion.

Some of the older satellites are still functional: GOES-13, GOES-14, and GOES-15.  GOES-16 replaced  GOES-13, which has been retired, but could be brought back into service if needed.  GOES-14 is kept at an orbital location half way between GOES-East and GOES-West as an on-orbit spare in case anything goes awry with the primary satellites.  GOES-S will replace GOES-15, and GOES-15 likely will be moved to the intermediate position along with GOES-14, although that is not definite, Walsh said.

The point is that these satellites are still usable and NOAA and the Air Force are studying whether one could meet tactical military requirements.  NOAA’s Ajay Mehta said today the two have an agreement to conduct engineering studies. If the studies are favorable, they will formulate another agreement “to actually move whatever satellite we decide meets their needs.” “We’re really at the early stages of our dealings with the Air Force,” he added.  Mehta is the acting deputy assistant administrator for systems at NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), which oversees NOAA’s weather satellite program.

DOD continues to struggle with determining its weather satellite needs and how to meet them.  Historically, DOD and NOAA operated separate polar-orbiting military and civil weather satellite systems.  In 1994, the Clinton-Gore Administration directed them to merge their systems into one.  The resulting National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program was cancelled 16 years later by the Obama Administration after years of cost overruns and schedule delays and not a single satellite launched.  NOAA and the Air Force were directed to resume separate systems.

NOAA moved forward with its Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), the first of which was launched last year, and the GOES-R series for GEO. DOD initially determined it could manage with its legacy polar-orbiting Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites augmented by data from a European geostationary satellite for coverage in the Middle East.  DOD did not adequately coordinate with NOAA in making that decision, however, and therefore did not realize the Europeans had decided not to replace the satellite the Air Force was expecting to use.  Then, the newest of the DMSP satellites, DMSP-19, failed prematurely.  Apparently DOD is now considering using one of the older NOAA GOES satellites to meet some of its needs.

The launch of GOES-S on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is currently scheduled for March 1, 2018 from Cape Canaveral, FL.  The two-hour launch window opens at 5:02 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST).  It will be broadcast on NASA TV.


User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.