In order to make accurate weather predictions, NOAA needs weather satellites in orbit to peer down at Earth. Until recently, the agency was making do with very old hardware from the 1990s, but it has since started launching the much improved GOES-R satellites. GOES-17 launched in March of this year, and it sent back a few images shortly after that. Now, it’s finally reached its final destination over the Pacific Ocean, and it’s beaming back some stunning images and lots of atmospheric data.
GOES-17 reached orbit with the help of a ULA Atlas-V rocket. After launch, the satellite was at an altitude of 22,300 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers), but it was looking down on central and South America. This was expected, of course, but it still took months of maneuvering to get GOES-17 into position over the Pacific. It reached its new orbital position at 137.2 degrees west longitude on November 13th.
From its new location, GOES-17 can watch the North American west coast, Alaska, Hawaii, and most of the Pacific Ocean. This is the first time we’ve had high-resolution images of this region of Earth. That’s thanks to the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) on GOES-17, which is vastly more powerful than the cameras on older NOAA satellites. It can take a full disk image of the Earth on a continuous basis, but the default mode takes a new image every 15 minutes. The ABI can resolve objects as small as half a kilometer (0.31 miles) whereas the older NOAA satellites have only half as much resolution.
GOES-17 will improve our ability to forecast weather in the western half of the US. Its view of Alaska will also help NOAA track signs of climate change like the break-up of sea ice snow cover. That’s all on the agenda for when GOES-17 enters full operation on December 10th. Until then, NOAA is testing the satellite and getting sample images. At the top of this post, you can see an impressive shot of Hawaii. Just above is a full disk image of Earth from the satellite’s final location.
NOAA plans to launch two more GOES-R satellites. In 2020, the GOES-T (later designated GOES-18) will head into space. GOES-U (eventually GOES-19) will launch in 2024.
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