GOES-R weather satellite launch

Weather satellite GOES-R to provide detailed natural disaster prediction

An advanced weather satellite has been launched in the US that is designed to provide a clearer picture of when natural disasters may strike in order to take pre-emptive action to mitigate destruction and deaths.

The new GOES-R spacecraft is part of an $11bn (£8.9bn) effort to revolutionise forecasting and will help to monitor hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires, lightning storms and solar flares.

“What’s so exciting is that we’re going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed, higher resolution,” said Al Roker, a meteorologist for television network NBC.

In the case of tornadoes, Roker said, “If we can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes, we’re talking about lives being saved”.

Stephen Volz, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) director of satellites, said the spacecraft was “really a quantum leap above any satellite NOAA has ever flown”.

“For the American public, that will mean faster, more accurate weather forecasts and warnings. That also will mean more lives saved and better environmental intelligence.”

Airline passengers also stand to benefit, as improved forecasting will help pilots avoid bad weather. The information gathered could also help rocket scientists know when to call off a launch.

NASA declared the mission a success three and a half hours after lift-off, following separation from the upper stage.

The first in a series of four high-tech satellites, GOES-R hitched a ride on an unmanned Atlas V rocket, delayed for an hour by rocket problems and other issues. NOAA teamed up with NASA for the mission.

The satellite, valued by NOAA at £1bn (£800m) is aiming for a 22,300-mile-high equatorial orbit.

There, it will join three ageing spacecraft with 40-year-old technology and become known as GOES-16. After months of testing, this newest satellite will take over for one of the older ones. The second satellite in the series will follow in 2018. All told, the series should stretch to 2036.

GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. The first was launched in 1975.

GOES-R’s premier imager, one of six science instruments, will offer three times as many channels as the existing system, four times the resolution and five times the scan speed.

Typically, it will churn out full images of the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes and the continental United States every five minutes. Specific storm regions will be updated every 30 seconds.

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