When the Atlas V rocket carrying NOAA’s next-generation geostationary weather satellite blazed into the cool Florida night sky last November, no one knew for sure what the satellite’s operational orbit would be. Now, six months later, officials have announced their decision: GOES-16 will replace GOES-13 in the GOES-East position at 75 degrees west longitude. The transition is expected to take place this fall, when the Harris-built GOES-R Ground System will provide the command and control to move the spacecraft from its current position centered over the Western Hemisphere.

From the GOES-East position, the Harris-built Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) will begin monitoring what NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service Director Stephen Volz, Ph.D., calls the areas of the continental U.S. “most vulnerable to tornadoes, floods, land-falling tropical storms, hurricanes and other severe storms.”

Preliminary Results

Soon after GOES-16 entered orbit, mission specialists began the rigorous, nearly year-long testing and calibration of the satellite’s instruments, including the mission-critical ABI. ABI is responsible for more than 90 percent of the data produced by the satellite. Concurrently, the new GOES-R ground system—also designed and built by Harris—has been put through its paces, receiving data streaming from the satellite instruments, processing it, and sending it back to the satellite for rebroadcast testing.  (The ground system is also responsible for essential GOES mission management and enterprise management functions, which are also undergoing operational testing.)

Already, the National Weather Service and research facilities are diving into the terabytes of new data being collected each day. And while the GOES-16 data products are still considered preliminary, meteorologists are utilizing them to enhance forecasting. The fine detail of the imagery and the fast refresh time are helping meteorologists better understand storms as they unfold with second-by-second, near-real time sequences. The data is being used to fill the information gaps of current operational sources.

“The results are exceeding expectations all around,” says Eric Webster, vice president and general manager of Harris’ Environmental Solutions business. “It’s exciting to see the data pouring in with unprecedented detail and speed that is five times faster than ever before. The ability to detect subtleties like storm strengthening and weakening allows us to prepare for weather in a way we never could before.”

Looking Ahead

With the 2017 tropical storm season for the Atlantic basin expected to be above normal and the Eastern Pacific expected to have near or above normal activity, Webster believes that ABI will quickly prove its ability to help improve forecasts.

“Both the basins have already seen tropical storm activity this year: Tropical storm Arlene in the Atlantic and Tropical Storm Adrian in the Pacific,” Webster reports. “Even from the GOES-16 testing position, the ABI scanner was able to collect impressive footage of both storms. We expect that the new data will be tremendously useful in helping meteorologists better understand and forecast cyclone development.”

With GOES-16 moving into the GOES-East position, NOAA reports that GOES-15 will continue as the GOES-West satellite, providing forecasters with coast-to-coast coverage of weather conditions. GOES-15 will be replaced by GOES-S, scheduled to launch by spring 2018.

Click here to learn more about the imaging technology inside America’s next-generation weather satellite.

GOES-16 data posted on this page are preliminary, non-operational data and are undergoing testing. Users bear all responsibility for inspecting the data prior to use and for the manner in which the data are utilized.