Batter Up! Smarter New Weather Satellite Called to the Mound

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Major changes high above our heads today. And only a few people are aware because, on the surface (forgive the pun), nothing much will change. This is one of those “behind the scenes” changes that touches every one of us, yet life will go on as before. Although, life should go on just a little better than before. That’s because today marks the retirement of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) 11 which has been on duty for almost 12 years, and the beginning of operational duty for GOES 15 — which brings improved capabilities to the job.

Farewell GOES 11. This photo captures GOES 11 being launched into space on May 3, 2000. Photo: NOAA

GOES 11 was launched into orbit in May, 2000. Following post-launch testing it was mothballed in orbiting storage until becoming operational in 2006, following the decommissioning of GOES 10 (official decommissioning occurs next week when NASA changes its orbit to 185 miles above its current position). Interestingly, the planned 5-year design life of GOES 11 had already expired by the time it was called up to replace GOES 10. Now upon retirement, its design life has been exceeded by almost seven years. Three cheers to GOES 11 and all involved for exemplary service and the significantly extra bang for our tax payers’ buck.

With GOES 15 on the mound, we should expect continued stellar support and a long service life (planned design life: 10 years). Though held in the bullpen for more than a year and a half since its March, 2010 launch into space, GOES 15 brings new and improved capabilities to Earth observing and monitoring. In addition to better resolution and image stability, GOES 15 instrumentation includes a 5-channel multispectral imager to capture visible light and infrared images of the continental United States, a sounder to take readings of atmospheric temperature and moisture, a solar x-ray imager to detect solar flares, and instruments to monitor the magnetosphere, cosmic background radiation and charged particles. These sensors will allow GOES 15 to perform such functions as tracking space weather, oceanographic changes, forest fires and other hazards and provide scientific data collection and information for missions such as search and rescue.

GOES 15 on deck in pre-launch uniform. Photo: NOAA

GOES 15 will monitor the west coast of the U.S., Hawaii and the eastern Pacific. GOES 15 (aka “GOES West”) joins GOES 13 (GOES East), as well as GOES 12 (South America) and GOES 14 (orbiting storage*). The first of the next generation of GOES (GOES R) satellites will become operational in 2015 (more).

YourWeatherBlog has written about GOES before. You can visit  Tornadoes, Earthquakes, Hurricanes – Whose Going to Pay For All of This?” and “New Satellite Ready for Action.”

* “Orbital storage”? Yes. Though some may not expect logical pre-planning from our government, NOAA is often times ahead of the game. Case in point: GOES. With redundancy and the inevitable replacement in mind, NOAA also answers the “what if” questions by keeping a back-up satellite or two in orbit at all times. Once post-launch testing is complete (a process that can take six months), the satellite is switched into standby mode until being called to duty.

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