strip of western hemisphere - simulated GOES-R imagery

Photons to Forecasters…Ready, Set, GOES-R!

By Allan Weiner, Ph.D., Senior Scientist
Sep 7, 2016

With the upcoming launch of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R) satellite, National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters will soon have new and improved, space-based tools to aid in the forecasting of severe weather.  Two, in particular, are greatly anticipated.

The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) will create more image data, more often, and at a higher quality than ever before.  The Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) will be the first weather instrument to observe lightning data from nearly 23,000 miles above the earth. 

Both of these instruments operate by sensing atmospheric photons that are emitted into space from Earth. So how do those photons become data used by forecasters?

From Space to Ground

The photons picked up by the GOES-R instruments are converted into voltages, digitized, and encoded into bit streams. These are transmitted to 16.4-meter (53.8-foot) antennas, developed by Harris and General Dynamics, which are located at Wallops Island, Virginia, and Fairmont, West Virginia. The GOES-R ground system, also built by Harris, then converts the bit streams from the ABI into radiances and those from the GLM into “Level 2” lightning data—essentially the time and location of the lightning flashes. 

From Ground to Space—and Back

Image radiances and lightning data are then sent back up to the GOES-R satellite for rebroadcast to the entire Western Hemisphere in a data set known as the GOES Rebroadcast (GRB).  GRB data can be received by anyone with the proper equipment.

One of the locations that will receive GRB data is another Harris-built data processing center, the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility (NSOF), in Suitland, Maryland.  Here data is converted into additional Level 2 products, such as cloud and moisture imagery, sea/land surface temperature, aerosol data, to name a few.  Once created, the data products and metadata are then sent to a product distribution and access system for distribution to NOAA customers and, eventually, the world.

GRB data will also be sent to a select group of NWS forecasters through the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), which enables forecasters to monitor weather events from analysis and forecast models, weather observations, and satellite imagery. The new GOES-R satellite imagery will significantly enhance forecasters’ ability to see weather within their forecast area of responsibility.

Tested and Ready to Go!

NOAA and Harris have already tested the interface between the GOES-R and the AWIPS programs with simulated data. Both systems performed flawlessly with 24/7 continuous operations for 38 days straight—representing some 21 million files transferred—without a single error in data processing or delivery! 

Typically, these types of interfaces are not tested until well after launch, when the certification process—required to begin releasing data to users for operations—is almost complete. But due to these proactive measures, NWS forecasters will be able to receive GOES-R data through their AWIPS system on the day the data receives the green light for operations, and the American public will likely begin seeing improved forecasts almost immediately! 

Read more about Harris’ involvement in the GOES-R mission.