GOES-R, Where No One Has Gone Before


What makes GOES-R the best, most advanced weather satellite ever launched? (AP)

Learn a little about weather satellites in the last paragraph of our encyclopedic entry here.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including instructions for building a LEGO® model of GOES-R.

Discussion Ideas

  • The good folks at NASA and NOAA just launched the “best weather satellite ever.” What is a weather satellite?
    • A weather satellite is an instrument (or, a set of instruments) that circles the Earth in geostationary orbit to track weather patterns in the atmosphere.
      • The premier weather satellites in the U.S. go by the name GOES. GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, and the first was launched in 1975. There are currently three operational GOES satellites. (The one launched this weekend will become operational next year.)
        • GOES-East is operational at 75°W longitude, and primarily tracks weather patterns across the eastern U.S. and the Americas.
        • GOES-West is operation at 135°W longitude and primarily tracks weather patterns across the Pacific Ocean and western U.S. and the Americas.
        • GOES 14 is a “backup” in storage at 90°W longitude. It temporarily assumed the responsibilities of GOES-East in 2009.
        • The newest satellite is part of the GOES-R-series. In the next couple of years, GOES-R will undergo two name changes. When the satellite becomes operational next year, it will be called GOES-16. Eventually, it will take the place of one of the existing GOES satellites, either GOES-East or GOES-West, and will inherit that name.


  • Why did the U.S. launch GOES-R, when it already has three weather satellites in operation?
    • The GOES technology is sometimes 40 years old. GOES-R is equipped with sophisticated, high-tech instruments.



  • The primary instrument on GOES-R is the premier imager, or Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). What data does the ABI provide?
    • According to the mission statement, “ABI will view the Earth with 16 different spectral bands (compared to five on current GOES), including two visible channels, four near-infrared channels, and ten infrared channels.”
      • Why infrared and near infrared? According to our encyclopedic entry, infrared imagery detects the movement and transfer of heat, improving our understanding of the global energy balance and processes such as global warming, convection, and severe weather.
      • ABI will track and monitor cloud formation, atmospheric motion, convection, land surface temperature, ocean dynamics, flow of water, fire, smoke, volcanic ash plumes, aerosols and air quality, and vegetative health.
      • ABI will take a full disk image of the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes, the continental U.S. every five minutes, and specific storm areas every 60 seconds.


Illustration by NASA
Illustration by NASA
  • In addition to the amazing ABI, GOES-R has five other instruments. What are they?
    • Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS). These sensors track solar irradiance in the upper atmosphere, that is, the power and effect of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation per unit of area.
    • Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). GLM will measure total lightning (in-cloud, cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground) activity continuously over the Americas and adjacent ocean regions. GLM will provide critical information to forecasters which will allow them to focus on developing severe storms much earlier than they can currently, and before these storms produce damaging winds, hail, or even tornadoes.
    • Magnetometer. The magnetometer will provide measurements of the space environment magnetic field that controls charged particle dynamics in the outer region of the magnetosphere. These particles can be dangerous to spacecraft and human spaceflight.
    • Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS). SEISS is comprised of four sensors that will monitor proton, electron, and heavy ion fluxes in the magnetosphere. These electrostatic discharges (ESD) are a radiation hazard to astronauts and satellites.
    • Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI). SUVI is a telescope that monitors the sun in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength range. The telescope will monitor changes in solar flares and coronal mass ejections.


  • How soon will GOES-R be operational?
    • GOES-R is currently in parking orbit where it will undergo an extended checkout and validation phase of approximately one year.
      • The checkout phase includes instrument outgassing, an operation that prevents contamination from collecting on the instruments’ optical surface, and on-orbit calibration tests. Each instrument will also be individually tested.
    • After a year of checkout testing, GOES-R will be placed in the operational orbit of either GOES-East or GOES-West.


  • What will happen to GOES-East or GOES-West when it’s replaced by GOES-R?



AP: Best U.S. weather satellite ever launches

NOAA-NASA: Build a GOES-R LEGO® model!

Nat Geo: What is meteorology?

NOAA-NASA: GOES Mission Overview


Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies: GOES-R Education Proving Ground (lesson plans and resources for grades 6-12)

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