GOES: Geostationary Operational Environment Satellite. These satellites have been used to track storms, provide information for weather forecasting and research since the 1970s. As geostationary satellites, they remain in orbit above a fixed longitude above Earth's surface throughout their operational lifetime. There have been plenty of times where built-in propulsion systems have been utilized to move some of these satellites over the decades for reasons of filling in for another satellite that was rendered inoperable for one reason or another, but for the most part, these satellites remain fixed.
Over the decades the capabilities of GOES have expanded; for instance, GOES-1 imaged cloud cover, took cloud-top temperatures, measured horizontal wind velocities, and was able to image volcanic ash columns. The current GOES suite of satellites (GOES-13, GOES-14, and GOES-15) can perform these tasks, but at higher resolutions. They are also capable of imaging integrated water vapor, as well as calculate cloud-top heights, tasks the original GOES were ill-equipped to perform. But these current satellites are beyond, at, and very near their operational lifetimes respectively. GOES-13 was scheduled to be decommissioned back in May. GOES-14 is also reaches its operational lifetime this year. This leads us to a very crucial point: the risk of losing potentially life-saving data.
Weather data from GOES have been lost in the past due to various software and mechanical failures, with one such event lasting 13 days back in December '07. Normally, when a satellite is down, another can--and has been--maneuvered into its place in order to pick up the slack until issues with the inoperable satellite can be remedied. In recent years, GOES-14 had to be maneuvered to back-up a malfunctioning GOES-13. But what happens when the backup satellite is also at the end of its mission, as is the case with GOES-14?
This is a serious risk for the singular reason that without GOES, meteorologists would be nearly blind to severe weather systems should they evolve during a period when a satellite is not operational. Consider the possible nightmare scenario of not having an 'eye in the sky' when a hurricane such as Katrina, Sandy, or the more recent, Matthew are approaching populated islands and mainland coastal areas. This scenario is a metaphorical dark cloud looming over the heads of meteorologists across the Americas. So why aren't these aging satellites being replaced with newer ones?
The answer to that question largely falls upon the heavily-laden shoulders of the Federal budget, and to a lesser extent--ironically--due to weather-induced launch delays. But fret not my weather-and-climate-loving friends! The GOES-R series are ready for service, with the first of four satellites is scheduled to launch in 28 days, 3 hours, and 2 minutes at the time of writing this sentence!
The GOES-R series is made up of GOES-R (to be GOES-16), GOES-S (to be GOES-17), GOES-T (to be GOES-18), and GOES-U (to be GOES-19). Launch schedules are next month, 2018, 2019, and 2024 respectively.
As mentioned above, GOES have only been able to image their respective footprints every 30 minutes, with no ability to focus on particular storm systems. Take for instance when I go storm chasing. I often pull up GOES visible satellite images to look for Cu fields, clear skies, or developing Cb. The best resolution images my storm chaser amigos and I can pull up are the GOES 1km snapshots which look like this:
Here we're zoomed in on an entire state; but imagine having the ability to zoom in on a specific area within that state! This is the dream that will be realized once GOES-R is operational! Professional meteorologists have already begun training on the quantitative and qualitative use of the new GOES-R array, with media "meteorologists" up for training in the first week of November. The rest of us can advance our learning curve by visiting http://www.goes-r.gov/
Been there done that?! Let's do this!
If you think GOES-R's awesome ability to zoom in at never-before-seen resolutions is awesome, then you'll be awed ever more by the fact the GOES-R series of satellites will image atmospheric conditions every 5 MINUTES! Not the usual humdrum 30 minutes of GOES past! Imagine the possibilities my friends!
When I originally co-wrote the grant with a fellow named Mark for the upgraded automated weather station at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA back in 2004, and again in 2010 (then built and programmed both stations), I programmed the systems to record and upload data every 10-minutes, rather than the usual 1-hour intervals which had been standard NWS protocol nationwide going back to the days when the NWS was the Weather Bureau. I was initially ridiculed by weather observers at Cal State Northridge for what they called, "overkill", but this more frequent data suite caught on and now is used at hundreds of stations across the country. Why? Because research scientists can better see the evolution of micro-scale weather trends.
The same can be said for the upgraded 5-minute imagery updates of GOES-R. These frequent updates will allow meteorologists to see the evolution of storms, which is likely to lead to a far better understanding of how and why storms evolve as they do. The research horizon that this data will inevitably reveal will be expansive and beautiful to the eyes of scientists from many disciplines.
The GOES-R series don't stop there; they will transmit 34 atmospheric, terrestrial, oceanic, solar, and space weather products.
One of particular interest to chasers will be the first-of-its-kind lightning mapper! Due to the generally unknown-but-very-real media embargo many academic, governmental, and private scientific organizations place on the release of new research, equipment, rules, or missions, I am unable to pull up details of the new lightning mapper to explain its detailed function. But imagine having a high-speed, near-IR camera able to detect lightning over North and South America, including their adjacent oceans! As for the media embargo, if you want to learn more about this rather peculiar practice the public is oft unaware of, pick up a copy of this month's Scientific American (Oct 2016 issue pp. 54-61) and prepare yourself for some mixed emotions. I personally find these embargoes rather upsetting, but in today's free-for-all-social-"media"-circus, I suppose I can sort of, kind of, barely see their purpose. But I still don't like it. But to cheer yourself back up after reading that article, turn to page 18! Wink wink! Just avoid page 12, lest ye be put back in the doldrums again.
Ok, back to the GOES-R series! Improved solar imaging is another upgrade which I'm sure will make the folks over at spaceweather.com happy! Now we'll better see the high-energy charged particles emitted by one of these...
...before it hits one of these...
So we await the final countdown of the first satellite in the R-series, and hope the Atlas V 541 rocket takes off without a hitch... weather permitting!