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Emerging Capabilities

Next-generation Weather Satellite to Enhance Forecasting and Help
Save Lives

GOES-R

In recent weeks, weather-related tragedies and developments have occupied a prominent place in news headlines across the United States. 

A series of tornadoes devastated the Oklahoma City area May 20 and May 31, including the town of Moore, leading to more than 20 deaths and at least $2 billion in property damage, according to news reports. 

In late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its 2013 Atlantic hurricane season forecast, calling for an active season. According to NOAA officials, a 70 percent chance exists of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher) developing, with seven to 11 possibly becoming hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

This compares to seasonal averages of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The backdrop of deadly tornadoes and an anticipated active hurricane season accentuates the critical nature of accurate and timely weather forecasting for protecting lives and property.  That is where Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) come into play.

For almost 40 years, GOES satellites have served a pivotal role in monitoring weather developments over the United States. Perched in fixed positions over the east and west coasts of America, two satellites have monitored atmospheric and solar conditions and provided continuous imagery and data to enable meteorologists to make forecasts and identify and track dangerous weather systems, such as tornadoes, hurricanes and thunderstorms.

Operated by NOAA, GOES satellites have been in operation since the launch of the first satellite in 1975. The satellites maintain constant watch over the United States, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Central and South America and Southern Canada, all from a point approximately 22,300 miles above Earth.

Now, the next generation of GOES satellites is under development, with Lockheed Martin Space Systems building the GOES-R series, the first of which is scheduled for launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in late 2015. 

Built on the proven Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite platform, GOES-R will feature advanced instrument capabilities, including more visible and infrared channels, four times the imaging resolution and new lightning detection technology. Along with building the spacecraft, Lockheed Martin was selected to design a new Solar Ultraviolet Imager, a Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) and a magnetometer.

“Current GOES satellites send updates over the entire western hemisphere every 30 minutes,” said Paula Hartley, Lockheed Martin vice president and GOES-R program manager. “The GOES-R series will reduce this update time to every five minutes, and in a special operating mode, the imaging instrument on GOES-R will offer repeat views of evolving storms over smaller areas every 30 seconds.”

According to Hartley, the GLM will map total lightning within its coverage area to provide earlier indications of storm intensification and improved tornado warning lead times.

“The GLM’s ‘total lightning’ observations of thunderstorms will provide National Weather Service forecasters with advanced severe weather-prediction capabilities to increase warning lead times and, ultimately, help save lives, Hartley said.”

GOES-R will also enable forecasters to track hurricane direction and landfall more effectively by narrowing the “cone of uncertainty” for predicted storm tracks. This improved accuracy will help emergency managers save resources by having to evacuate fewer people out of harm’s way.

Illustrating the vital role of the GOES satellites, GOES-13 went offline temporarily in late May after apparently being struck by a micrometeoroid, prompting NOAA to activate a backup satellite to ensure continued coverage over the eastern United States and the Atlantic Ocean. 

Although officials successfully reactivated GOES-13 June 10, the incident underscored the importance of the continuing progress on the GOES-R series program.  

In 2012, the GOES-R spacecraft team passed a critical design review and program review, enabling the team to transition from the engineering to the build, assembly and test phase. 

NASA, who partners with NOAA in the acquisition and development of the GOES-R series,  exercised an option for Lockheed Martin to build two additional satellites, bringing the total number of satellites to be built to four. GOES-R will inaugurate a new generation of weather satellites, extending the lifetime of the GOES series to at least 2036.

“This critical new national asset will help ensure that every community is given as much forewarning of severe weather as possible to minimize loss of life and property,” Hartley said.  “The GOES-R series will give us the capability to truly help save lives.”

Posted July 10, 2013

highlights
  • Built on the Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite platform, GOES-R will feature advanced instrument capabilities, including more visible and infrared channels, four times the imaging resolution and new lightning detection technology.
  • GOES-R will send updates every five minutes compared to the current GOES system updating every 30 minutes. 
  • Lockheed Martin is also designing a new Solar Ultraviolet Imager, a Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) and a magnetometer.

Hurricane Sandy

In May, NOAA issued the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season forecast.  Officials have increased the predicted number of storms and hurricanes highlighting the critical need for accurate and timely forecasting.  Hurricane Sandy as seen from NOAA's GOES-13 satellite on October 28, 2012.  Credit: NOAA/NASA


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