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OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

NASA launches newest HI-DEF weather satellite into space

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Thursday, March 1, 2018, 6:16 PM - GOES-S, NOAA's latest high-definition weather satellite, launched into space today, to expand next-generation weather coverage across the entire western hemisphere!

It's been a little over a year now since GOES-16, the satellite formerly known as GOES-R, sent back its first astounding high-resolution images of Earth and its weather. The pictures it has returned since have given us a view of the weather that we've only seen before using satellites in low-Earth orbit, but without the limitation of having to wait over an hour between subsequent images of the same location, due to the polar orbit of those satellites. With GOES-16 in geostationary orbit above the western hemisphere, this new satellite provided us with the same quality images, but with the added benefit of continuous, simultaneous, real-time coverage of around one-third of the planet's surface area.

Now, months after GOES-16 officially took up its permanent position as GOES-East - the weather satellite covering the Atlantic Ocean, the eastern half of North America and all of South America - NASA has launched GOES-16's twin, GOES-S.

This new satellite will formally take up the name GOES-17 after it reaches orbit, and it is set to become the official GOES-West satellite, expanding high-resolution weather imaging to cover roughly half the planet - all the way from western Africa to New Zealand.

The combined coverage of GOES-16 (GOES-East) and GOES-S/GOES-17 (Future GOES-West). Images courtesy NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio. Composite by Scott Sutherland

What will GOES-S deliver?

"We expect GOES-S to be the perfect partner to its sister satellite, GOES-16, whose early returns have surpassed our expectations," said Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. "The revolutionary technology on these satellites, coupled with the skill of NOAA forecasters, will lead ultimately to more lives saved."

Click the video below to watch just a sample of GOES-16's amazing imagery.

According to NOAA, the new GOES-S satellite will match GOES-16's capabilities, scanning the Earth five times faster than the current GOES-West satellite (GOES-15), and at four times better image resolution, with triple the number of data channels, to provide us with a wealth of information to help us identify, track and forecast weather conditions. The coverage upgrade from GOES-S, after it takes up its position as GOES-West, will be invaluable for weather forecasters in Canada and the United States, as it will fill a critical data gap in the northeast Pacific Ocean, where many of the weather systems that track across the continent are spawned.

For all the details about GOES-S, watch below:

After going through extensive testing, GOES-S is expected to take over the GOES-West position from GOES-15 later this year.

"We'll soon see the value of having two sophisticated geostationary satellites in operation, not only in the amount of lives saved through more accurate forecasts, but in cost savings throughout the economy," Stephen Volz, the director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service said in a press release. "With GOES-S and GOES-16, we are able to cover about half the planet with the most sophisticated weather forecast technology ever flown in space."

GOES-S? GOES-17? GOES-West? GOES-East? Why so many names?

All of these names piling up on top of one another may be confusing, but it helps NOAA - the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - keep their satellites organized.

Up in geostationary orbit above the western hemisphere, roughly 36,000 km out, there are two different 'slots' to fill for weather satellites. The GOES-East slot is centered above northern South America, and the satellite that fills this slot keeps a watch over the Atlantic Ocean, the eastern half of North America and all of South America. The GOES-West slot is centered above the eastern Pacific Ocean, and the satellite that fills that slot watches over most of the Pacific Ocean, as far west as New Zealand and the east coast of Australia, and as far east as the western half of North America.

The positions of the two GOES satellite 'slots'. Credit: NOAA

Now, the satellites that go up to occupy those slots in space are named sequencially. They started with GOES-1 back in 1976, and we've reached GOES-16 already, with GOES-17 soon to join them. There's a catch here, though. Notice that R is the 18th letter of the alphabet, and S is the 19th. 

Whereas we've now had 16 operational GOES satellites in orbit, and a 17th is on its way, NOAA has actually planned for a total of 19 GOES satellites. GOES-G, launched on May 3, 1986, never made it to orbit, and while GOES-Q was planned, it was never built. So, this is where the letters come in. While a satellite is being designed, built and launched, it goes by a letter designation. When it safely reaches orbit, it takes on the next number in the sequence. That way, the operational satellites maintain a number sequence with no gaps.

After GOES-S become GOES-17, and GOES-15 is retired from the GOES-West slot, GOES-T will launch, with GOES-U also planned. These two satellites will then, once they safely reach orbit, become GOES-18 and GOES-19, and they will essentially become 'spares'. That way, if GOES-16 or GOES-17 happens to go down for some reason (hit with a cosmic ray particle, or a piece of space debris, or even a micrometeoroid), one of the others can be moved over into its position, to keep giving us full coverage of our weather.

Sources: NASA | NOAA | US Air Force

Watch Below: NOAA's new satellites are game-changers for weather forecasting!

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