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NASA's New Satellite Is Going to Be a Game Changer for Weather Forecasts


NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched a weather satellite on top of an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Saturday. The sophisticated satellite—called the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R)—promises to provide more accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings for the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The GOES-R is slated to reach its final designated orbit, 22,300 miles above the equator, within two weeks, at which point it will be renamed to GOES-16. The satellite will then undergo 11 months of testing—a checkout and validation process for the six instruments on board the spacecraft—before becoming fully operational. The most notable instrument is the operational lightning mapper, which is a first-of-its-kind device that will take infrared images of lightning fields at a rate of 200 photos a second.

"The next generation of weather satellites is finally here," said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan in a statement. "GOES-R will strengthen NOAA's ability to issue life-saving forecasts and warnings and make the United States an even stronger, more resilient weather-ready nation."

The satellite will assist meteorologists by providing atmospheric measurements and a stream of high-definition images taken every 5 minutes over the Western Hemisphere with the ability to simultaneously zoom in on specific areas. From this data, GOES-R will help experts observe and predict severe weather events—thunderstorms, tornadoes, flash floods, fog, etc.—and detect hazards like forest fires, dust storms, and volcanic eruptions. It will also be used for search and rescue, oceanography, and climate monitoring.

GOES-R is the 17th GOES spacecraft and is part of the $11 billion system upgrade. What makes the new satellite unique is that it is far more advanced—and five times faster—than the current system. The spacecraft is equipped with a high-resolution camera designed to see in 16 wavelengths, offering images with four time better resolution. In comparison, the satellite's predecessor can only see in five wavelengths.

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