The U.S. fleet of weather satellites is about to get upgraded to high definition. In 30 days, the GOES-R satellite is scheduled to be launched into orbit, giving scientists a clearer view of the weather than ever before.
The new satellite will be launched by NASA and managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to monitor hurricanes and other high-impact types of weather like extreme precipitation.
Having a clearer, more real time view of specific storms has major implications for how people prepare on the ground, particularly in a warming world where certain types of extreme weather are likely to become more common.
“An increase in extreme precipitation events over past few years has been extraordinary,” Stephen Volz, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, said. “We need to be able to merge data we get from satellite with radar data to make better estimates for the forecast.”
Hurricane Matthew underscores the importance of having GOES-R in orbit. In places like Haiti, where on-the-ground weather stations are sparse, the satellite will provide another layer of information for forecasters and decision-makers.
Even in the U.S., which has a wealth of weather monitoring resources, the imagery from GOES-R will still play an important role in getting people to take weather threats seriously.
“There’s a human element to people taking action,’ Mary Glackin, the head of forecasting at The Weather Company, said. “Delivering higher resolution imagery is really important.”
There are currently three geostationary GOES satellites (two are active while one is on standby), which each sit over a fixed point roughly 22,300 miles above the earth’s surface. GOES-R will be the latest addition to a fleet that’s been continuously upgraded since 1975.
GOES East and GOES West, the current duo satellites that cover the U.S. and parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, have been in orbit since 2006 and 2010, respectively. A lot has changed on the ground since then from a technology standpoint, and the new satellite will include some major hardware upgrades including six new sensors.
The superlatives about what those sensors can do read like a meteorologist’s dream. It will provide four times higher resolution at five times the speed of current GOES satellite as well as provide a clearer view of winds at different levels of the atmosphere.
Volz said the new sensors will cut down the pole-to-pole scan time from 27 minutes to 5 minutes, allowing near real-time analysis of storm systems and the forces that drive them. All this will give meteorologists more tools to improve forecasts and monitor how the world’s weather moves about and changes over time.
Japan’s Himawari-8 satellite, which was brought online last summer, has similar capabilities to GOES-R. When GOES-S launches next year, it’ll add another high-tech way to monitor the planet.