NASA's GOES-T satellite will bring the terror of climate change into focus

It will greatly enhance our ability to track the changing global environment.
Brad Bergan
An artist's depiction of the GOES-T in Earth orbit.Lockheed Martin  

Suppose we're going to live in a rapidly warming world and hope to fortify our continued existence against the violent side-effects of a hotter planet. We're going to need state-of-the-art weather monitoring technology. 

A new satellite will rise into orbit on Tuesday to aid humanity in doing just that: Called GOES-T, the new satellite will become the most advanced weather and environmental observation system ever launched by the United States.

According to NASA, the Earth-imaging satellite will launch at 4:38 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, March 1, from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop an Atlas V rocket.

So strap in.

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GOES-T will close the gap in weather monitoring for the western hemisphere

The new satellite's operation will fall under the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The latest weather satellite represents "huge advancements in technology," the  National Weather Service's James Yoe told "We're still learning how to exploit these satellites fully."

The new sat is part of a series of imaging orbiters that take visible and infrared images of Earth called GOES-R, short for Geostationary Environmental Observational Satellite - R Series.

NASA and NOAA have operated the satellite constellation in geosynchronous orbit. Aboard each satellite is a variety of instruments capable of monitoring highly complex weather patterns, in addition to environmental data as the effects of climate change continue to get worse.

The images will be beamed back down to Earth and seen at stations like the Wallops Command and Data Acquisition Station on Wallops Island, Virginia.  Gregory Johnson, a GOES Ground System Engineer at Wallops, is looking forward to seeing the first images from the latest sat.

“This is an exciting time,” said Johnson in a NASA news release. “With a new satellite launch, everyone is waiting to see the first image come down. We’re excited to see all this collaboration come together.”

Once the latest satellite enters its geostationary orbit, it will be renamed GOES-18 and join GOES-16, another satellite lofted to space in 2016. The GOES-East satellite monitors one region of the Earth. GOES-18, on the other hand, will replace GOES-17, which looks after the GOES-West region.

So it Goes-R: Real-time weather monitoring from space

Combined, the two monitored regions cover most of the Western Hemisphere, from Africa's western coast to New Zealand. That's a combined range of more than 7,000 miles across the surface of the Earth, monitored in real-time.

GOES-T clean room
NOAA’s GOES-T satellite is in view inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida, as it is being prepared for encapsulation in the United Launch Alliance Atlas V payload fairings. The fairings will secure and protect the satellite during launch. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

While the GOES-T (GOES-18) satellite is equipped with mainly the same suite of weather detection technology that earlier GOES-R satellites had, it's packing something essential: an upgraded cooling system.

The reason is historic: In 2018, the GOES-17's ABI encountered a serious glitch post-launch, which permanently reduced its operational capabilities when facing the sun.

And for GOES-17, that happens a lot during the spring and fall, which meant it was forever a suboptimal tool for researchers and scientists on the ground.

Preparing for the severe weather with real-time satellite intel

But there are other upgrades, like a new magnetometer, which can monitor subtle shifts in our planet's magnetic field. The GOES-18 will help report on space weather, notably solar storms from coronal activity and ejections from the sun. Solar storms can knock out Earth's power, communications, and navigation systems.

The sun is approaching peak activity in its 11-year cycle, due sometime in 2025. GOES-18's timing is also apt for planetary weather.

Real-time intel on climate — As the world gets hotter, it will see more severe storms, hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. Real-time tracking and early-warning systems will be crucial in saving lives.

Suppose we're going to adapt cities and lives to the ebb and flow of climate change-linked events. In that case, we'll need the most advanced monitoring hardware and software on the scene, providing a clear picture with a complete suite of cutting-edge weather detection devices. And that's exactly what GOES-R is.

NASA's launch coverage will air at 4 p.m. on NASA TV, the agency app, and the NASA website.

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