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Revolutionary Weather Satellite Successfully Launches at Kennedy Space Center

Originally published by Medill News Service.

The launch of GOES-R occurred Saturday at 6:42 p.m. EST at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Kelly Calagna/MEDILL

CACAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NOAA’s revolutionary weather satellite successfully launched Saturday from Cape Canaveral at 6:42 p.m. EST. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) will be able to provide high definition views of severe weather events, offering more precise warnings that could save lives.

GOES-R, which will be called GOES-16 once it is detached from its booster, is the first in a series of next generation satellites for weather monitoring set to replace the current NOAA GOES network. “It’s going to be like instead of seeing black and white television, HD,” said Joe Pica, director of the Office of Operations at the National Weather Service in a mission briefing at the space center on Thursday.

The weather satellite’s launch had been delayed twice due to damage to space center facilities and equipment from hurricane Mathew last month, as well as a minor booster issue. But with clear conditions and all units “go,” the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket finally got the spacecraft off the ground.

(From left to right) Steven Goodman, GOES-R program scientist, NOAA; Joe Pica, director of the Office of Operations at the National Weather Service; Sandra Cauffman, deputy director of the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters; and Damon Penn, Assistant Administrator of the Response Directorate at FEMA, give a mission briefing at the Kennedy Space Center press office on Thursday. Kelly Calagna/MEDILL

The geostationary satellite will be able to monitor a vast swath of the Western Hemisphere: from the east coast of New Zealand to the west coast of Africa, and from Canada down to Chile. With three times more channels than current weather satellites, it will track severe weather with intensified accuracy, giving immediate updates and warnings about hurricanes, typhoons, lightning, fires, tornadoes or even rough flight conditions. The imaging resolution will be four times as powerful as what is available now—so advanced that it will be possible to see the waves in the clouds that cause turbulence. “We will see features with GOES-R that we have never been able to see before,” said Steven Goodman, a GOES-R program scientist with NOAA.

Spectral images of the earth will occur every five minutes and can be taken up to every 30 seconds in areas of interest, which is five times faster than the capabilities of current satellites. This frequency in information helps agencies such as FEMA and NOAA better plan for evacuations and quickly get grounds crews where they are needed most. “We are excited for GOES-R because it is going to help us do our jobs better,” said Pica.

The ability to more accurately map lightning aids the organizations in predicting the behavior of hurricanes—a technology Goodman said would have greatly helped in preparing the Caribbean for the rapid intensification of Mathew just last month. Goodman also said that the use of the imaging could help the public see “that the risk is real and the storm is coming at them, and they will maybe be more likely to take action—and that is what we need, people to take action to be safe.”

Additionally, GOES-16’s environmental monitoring programs will aid in studying the effects of climate change. “Right now, we don’t know what the [normal] variation for extreme weather is,” said Godman. But the 20 years of data GOES-16 will be collecting will extend upon the 17 years of data from the NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), creating a sound climate data set that can be used to look for those variations, said Goodman.

GOES-16 will also be keeping an eye to the sky. Its six instruments are designed to be either Earth-pointing, in-situ-pointing (near environment) or solar-pointing. The satellite will be able to detect solar flares, or intense radiation blasts from the sun, and send out warnings when necessary to shut off power grids to protect them from being destroyed from electromagnetic disturbances.

“Accuracy turns into time for us, and the one thing you can’t get back during a response to an emergency is time,” said Damon Penn, Assistant Administrator of the Response Directorate at FEMA, “Our relationship with NOAA and the kinds of products NOAA provides for us are critical to what it is that we do.”

It will take GOES-16 nine days from its launch date to position itself in its planned orbital route and about five months before it is fully operational. News and updates on the satellite are available at

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