The next advanced weather satellite for the United States is officially ready to launch into orbit this week on an Atlas V rocket.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cleared the new GOES-T weather satellite for a planned March 1 launch, the two agencies announced Saturday (Feb. 26). Liftoff is set for 4:38 p.m. EST (2138 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, with the United Launch Alliance conducting the flight.
“The spacecraft, the Atlas V rocket and range equipment are all ready, and the combined government and contractor launch team is prepared to add GOES-T to the family and continue this amazing legacy of these weather sentinels,” NASA launch director Tim Dunn said in a prelaunch press conference Saturday. GOES is short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite in NASA parlance.
Built by Lockheed Martin, GOES-T (which will be renamed GOES-18 once in orbit) is the third of four advanced weather satellites designed to serve U.S. meteorological forecast needs through 2036. They are part of NOAA’s $11.7 billion GOES-R satellite series program, which launched the GOES-16 weather satellite in 2016 followed by GOES-17 in 2018. A fourth satellite, GOES-U, will follow GOES-T to orbit in 2024.
“The GOES series has revolutionized severe event monitoring for us with regard to storms and other environmental hazards, such as wildfires, which are always a threat to our western states,” said Steve Volz, NOAA’s assistant administrator for satellite and information services, in the conference. The first GOES satellite, GOES 1, launched in 1975, with NASA and NOAA working together on the program.
GOES-T will join its fellow GOES satellites in a geostationary orbit 22,300 miles (just over 35,800 kilometers) above Earth that will allow it to observe weather across the entire Western Hemisphere. The satellite’s primary instrument is its Advanced Baseline Imager, a camera for tracking Earth’s weather, oceans and environment. It can scan the Earth five times faster and with four times the resolution of its predecessors, NOAA officials wrote in an overview.
The new satellite also carries a first-of-its-kind Geostationary Lightning Mapper instrument to detect severe thunderstorms earlier “before they produce damaging winds, hail or even tornadoes,” NOAA officials wrote.
GOES-T also carries four different instruments to monitor space weather. A solar ultraviolet imager will snap images of the sun while an U.V. and X-ray sensor will detect solar flares. A magnetometer and instrument suite to track energetic particles and changes in Earth’s magnetic field from space weather events.
“A big part of the GOES-R [series] mission is actually doing solar observations,” said Pam Sullivan, NOAA’s GOES-R program director.
Before GOES-T can begin its weather-watching mission, it does have to reach space. To do that, it will need good weather.
Current forecasts predict a 60% chance of good weather at launch time on Tuesday, with conditions improving to 70% on Wednesday if NASA and NOAA have to delay for a day, said launch weather officer Jessica Williams of the 45th Weather Squadron at Space Launch Delta in the briefing.
If GOES-T is delayed until Thursday (March 3), the mission would come up against another launch by SpaceX to loft a batch of new Starlink internet satellites from Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center near the GOES-T launch site. That mission is scheduled to launch at 9:32 a.m. EST (1432 GMT).
Dunn, NASA’s launch director, said the SpaceX flight will take priority for the morning launch on March 3, but that ULA could still support an afternoon liftoff for GOES-T that same day if needed.
“It does look achievable if we get ourselves into that situation,” Dunn said, adding that he hopes it won’t be needed. “We’re really focused on a Tuesday launch, March 1st, for GOES and everything looks really good for that opportunity right now.”