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NASA and NOAA launch most advanced weather satellite ever

A new weather satellite is on its way into space, but it’s unlike any of the weather satellites we have right now. Launched over the weekend by NASA and NOAA, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) is the first of a new fleet of weather-tracking satellites that could help scientists predict weather patterns further in advance and save lives. That’s just the start of what GOES-R can do.

The satellite is currently on its way to a geostationary orbit at 22,300 miles above the Earth. That means it has the same orbital period of the Earth, and thus remains in place over the continental US where it can monitor weather patterns. GOES-R will be a quantum leap for weather forecasting thanks to its advanced hardware. The satellite is capable of scanning the Earth five times faster, at four times the resolution, and in three times more spectrum bands than current satellites.

All the weather satellites NOAA relies upon currently were built with systems developed in the 1990s. With brand new technology in the GOES-R satellite called the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) could quite literally save lives by giving forecasters more timely data with which to predict the course of storms. Even a few minutes can make all the difference in warning people to take cover.

GOES-R could also fundamentally change the way weather forecasting is done thanks to live streaming of data from space. For example, lightning activity will be tracked in real time with an instrument called the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) and sent back to Earth where meteorologists can monitor it. This won’t only see ground strikes, but also the much more common cloud-to-cloud lightning. That’s crucially important when simulating the path of severe weather like tornadoes and supercell thunderstorms.

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While the ABI is GOES-R’s primary instrument, it has a few other neat gadgets on-board as well. It carries a sensor package capable of detecting x-ray and ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This allows scientists to track things like solar flares and the solar wind. The sun occasionally erupts with activity that can endanger our electrical grid, so scientists are understandably interested in learning all they can about the sun’s emissions. GOES-R also has the necessary hardware to participate in the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system. Individuals with special emergency transponders can send out distress signals that are relayed to rescuers via satellites. GOES-R makes these SARSAT beacons more reliable.

GOES-R was sent into space on an Atlas V rocket, one of the few launch vehicles with the power to get a large payload to geostationary orbit. It’s expected to be in position in about two weeks.

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