Spaceflight Insider

Weather favorable for Saturday launch of GOES-R on ULA Atlas V 541

Artist's representation of the GOES-R satellite in orbit. Credit: NOAA

Artist’s representation of the GOES-R satellite in orbit. Image Credit: NOAA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — After being subjected to delays caused by weather and troublesome hardware, the next-generation GOES-R weather satellite is soon to liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41), the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), with a scheduled launch date of Saturday, November 19, 2016.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series (GOES-R) spacecraft, a collaborative project between NOAA and NASA, and based on the Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite model, will augment the current stable of three active GOES satellites and will monitor weather in the Western Hemisphere. GOES-R will be given the operational designation of GOES 16 once it reaches its orbital slot, approximately 22,300 miles (35,888 kilometers) above the equator.

GOES-R spacecraft and its primary instruments. Credit: Lockheed Martin

GOES-R spacecraft and its primary instruments. Credit: Lockheed Martin

GOES-R represents the fourth generation of weather monitoring satellites operated by NOAA and will eventually be joined by three more of its family, culminating with the projected launch of GOES-U in 2024.

Weather forecasters and climate scientists have been eagerly awaiting the launch of GOES-R, which promises to greatly increase the amount of weather data that can be collected from orbit. In fact, GOES-R will provide nearly real-time weather data, with a fidelity and speed unmatched by the current generation of GOES satellites.

A key component aboard GOES-R is the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). This Earth-facing instrument is able to gather weather imaging from across 16 disparate spectral bands – two in the visible spectrum, four near-infrared, and ten infrared – providing three times more channels of data than the satellites preceding it.

Not only will GOES-R be able to gather more imaging data than its predecessors, it will be able to do so with 400 percent greater resolution and with a five-fold increase in speed.

Another nadir-facing instrument on GOES-R is the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). Designed to monitor the discharge of lightning – both intra-cloud and cloud-ground strikes – GLM aims to provide meteorologists with a new tool for the forecasting of severe weather.

Scientists have found a correlation between storm intensification and lightning activity, with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes often preceded by a rapid upturn in electrical activity. GLM will be able to provide this critical data to forecasters, both day and night, allowing them to more accurately predict the formation of damaging weather.

GOES-R Geostationary Lightning Mapper

Engineers examine the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) destined for the GOES-R satellite. Credit: Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Corporation

Beyond providing data on Earth-based weather, GOES-R will also observe our nearest stellar neighbor with a pair of instruments aimed at the Sun, and another pair will monitor the environment around the spacecraft itself.

Both the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) and Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) instruments will monitor the Sun for energetic outbursts, such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar flares, in order to better predict their impact on Earth.

Rounding out the satellite’s complement of instruments are a magnetometer and the Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS). Designed to measure the space surrounding the craft, these tools will provide data critical to the safety of astronauts and to the operation of satellites as well as power utilities on Earth.

The task to get this spacecraft to orbit falls to United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) dependable Atlas V. Outfitted in the powerful 541 configuration – a 5-meter payload fairing, 4 solid rocket motors, and a single-engined Centaur stage – this variant of the Atlas V can loft nearly 18,300 pounds (8,300 kilograms) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), more than enough to handle the 11,446-pound (5,192-kilogram) fully-fueled GOES-R.

The launch window for GOES-R opens at 5:42 p.m. EST (22:42 GMT) and extends for an hour. The forecast currently calls for an 80 percent chance of favorable weather at the opening of the window.

GOES-R mission overview. Video courtesy of NOAA



Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

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