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GOES-U Launch: A New Era in Weather Observation

Today marks a significant milestone in the advancement of weather observation and space technology with the successful launch of GOES-U, the latest of NOAA’s four advanced geostationary satellites. At precisely 5:26 p.m. EDT, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carried GOES-U into orbit from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This launch is not only a triumph of engineering but also a leap forward in our ability to monitor and predict weather patterns and space weather phenomena.

NOAA's GOES-U satellite launches aboard a Space X Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A at 5:26 p.m. EDT on June 25, 2024. (Image credit: Amber Jean Notvest/NASA and NOAA)
NOAA’s GOES-U satellite launches aboard a Space X Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A at 5:26 p.m. EDT on June 25, 2024. (Image credit: Amber Jean Notvest/NASA and NOAA)

A Journey to the Stars

The GOES-U satellite, now operating under its own power following the deployment of its solar array panels, is set to reach its geostationary orbit approximately 22,236 miles above Earth in about two weeks. Once it arrives at this vantage point, GOES-U will be renamed GOES-19. After a comprehensive checkout and validation of its instruments, GOES-19 will take up the GOES-East position in mid-2025, replacing GOES-16.

Enhancing Weather Forecasts

“GOES-U will combine high definition with advanced speed and precision to the real-time observations it will capture, which will help improve the accuracy and timeliness of our weather forecasts,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. This satellite’s advanced capabilities will ensure that critical data continues to support forecasters into the 2030s.

A Historic First

A groundbreaking feature of GOES-U is its onboard satellite solar coronagraph (CCOR-1), the first operational instrument of its kind. This coronagraph, along with other solar and space environment technology on the satellite, will play a crucial role in detecting hazardous space weather. Such space weather can have significant impacts on power grids, communications, and navigation systems.

“GOES is one of the most valuable tools that our meteorologists and hydrologists have in their observational toolbox,” noted NOAA National Weather Service Director Ken Graham. The new coronagraph will expand warning lead times for geomagnetic storms, adding to the life-saving applications provided by GOES-U, such as improved imaging capabilities for hurricanes, fires, and severe storms.

Completing a Legacy

GOES-U is the final satellite in the GOES-R series, a project conceived more than two decades ago. “It completes the GOES-R series of four satellites that were first conceived more than 20 years ago and is expected to operate into the late 2030s,” said Steve Volz, Ph.D., assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. Alongside GOES-18, stationed in the GOES-West position, GOES-U will provide comprehensive coverage of more than half the globe, from the west coast of Africa to New Zealand and from Alaska to Antarctica.

The NOAA-NASA Partnership

The GOES-R Series Program exemplifies the successful collaboration between NOAA and NASA. NOAA manages the ground system, operates the satellites, and distributes their data worldwide, while NASA oversees the acquisition of the spacecraft and instruments, also building the Magnetometer instrument for GOES-T and GOES-U. Lockheed Martin is responsible for the design, construction, and testing of the GOES-R series satellites, with L3Harris Technologies providing the primary instrument and ground system.

Looking Ahead: The GeoXO Mission

As we celebrate the launch of GOES-U, NOAA and NASA are already looking to the future with the development of GeoXO (Geostationary Extended Observations), the mission set to follow the GOES-R Series. Scheduled to launch in 2032, GeoXO will not only continue the advanced imagery and lightning detection capabilities of the GOES-R Series but also introduce new observations to monitor the atmosphere, ocean, and climate, addressing growing environmental and health challenges.

The successful launch of GOES-U is a testament to human ingenuity and the spirit of collaboration, marking a new chapter in our quest to understand and protect our planet. As GOES-U begins its mission, the world can look forward to more accurate weather forecasts and a better understanding of the dynamic space environment that surrounds us.