Science & Technology

Atlas 5 rocket launches GOES-S satellite to watch Western weather and wildfires

A next-generation GOES-S weather satellite, the second of its kind, rose into orbit at 2:02 p.m. PT (5:02 p.m. ET) today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

NASA assisted with the preparations for launch, but the satellite will be operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of a constellation that also includes GOES-R, now known as GOES-16. The acronym stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

GOES-16 monitors the eastern United States, much of South America, the Caribbean region and the Atlantic Ocean from NOAA’s GOES-East orbital vantage point, 22,000 miles above Earth.

Once GOES-S is declared operational, late this year, it will occupy the GOES-West position as GOES-17.

The satellite is designed to provide faster, more accurate data for tracking wildfires, fog conditions, tropical cyclones and other storm systems and hazards that threaten the western United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, as well as Mexico, Central America and the Pacific Ocean, all the way to New Zealand.

GOES-16 and GOES-S represent “a quantum leap” for climate and weather forecasting, Stephen Volz, director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, said during a pre-launch news briefing. “This means, quite frankly, more lives are saved and better environmental information is made available for state and local officials — who, for example, may need to make decisions about when to call for evacuations when life-threatening storms or wildfires occur,” Volz said.

Two additional satellites, GOES-T and GOES-U, are due to be launched in 2020 and 2024. Total price tag for the satellite upgrade program is $10.8 billion, which includes the costs of development, launch and operations through 2036.

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