NOAA has released the first images from the new GOES-18 weather satellite launched from Cape Canaveral on March 1, confirming that the spacecraft’s main camera doesn’t have the same cooling system problem that degraded visibility in a previous satellite.
The first images of GOES-18 were captured on May 5 from a position in geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) above the equator. GOES 18’s primary camera, called the Advanced Baseline Imager, captured the images in 16 channels, each tuned to see clouds, dust, smoke and water vapor in different wavelengths of light.
Images released Thursday showed strong thunderstorms over northeast Texas, dry conditions over much of Mexico and the American southwest, and fog off the coasts of California and Chile.
The new satellite is not yet operational, but is planned to take over real-time weather coverage of the western United States, Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Ocean in early 2023. He will replace GOES-17 in the so-called “GOES-West” position.
The GOES-17 camera instrument suffers from performance degradation, most likely caused by debris in the instrument’s cooling system. The failure means that the instrument’s detectors cannot maintain the correct temperature at certain times, resulting in intermittent loss of some infrared images.
Ground teams were able to restore some of the instrument’s lost function. NOAA officials said earlier this year that the GOES-17 imager will collect about 97% of planned data, with most imaging problems limited to times when the satellite is exposed to specific thermal conditions.
NOAA says GOES-18’s camera, built by L3Harris, works as designed.
“The ABI cooling system is performing well, with no signs of a problem affecting its sister satellite GOES-17,” NOAA said Thursday. “The ABI has been redesigned for GOES-18 to reduce the possibility of future cooling system anomalies. The new design uses a simpler hardware configuration that eliminates the filters that are prone to dirt. †
GOES-18, formerly known as GOES-T, took off from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The Atlas 5 put the spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, into target orbit, after which the satellite used its own propulsion to reach a circular geostationary orbit on March 14.
At that altitude, satellites orbit the Earth at the same rotational speed of the planet, meaning weather satellites can provide continuous view of the same hemisphere. NOAA renamed GOES-T as GOES-18 once it reached geostationary orbit.
Ground controllers maneuvered the satellite to a test site along the equator at 89.5 degrees W, where GOES-18 took its first pictures for public release. The next step for GOES-18 is a drift to 136.8 degrees west longitude for additional testing and instrument calibrations in addition to GOES-17. In early 2023, NOAA plans to transition to GOES-18 as the operational satellite at the GOES-West location, and GOES-17 will become a backup in the US government’s weather satellite fleet.
NOAA has also released the first observations from GOES-18’s magnetometer instrument and space-environment sensor suite, which will allow the satellite to track solar activity and space weather, providing early warnings for events that could disrupt communications, power grids, navigation systems and spacecraft operations. †
From the GOES-West orbital location, GOES-18 will be well positioned to monitor storm systems approaching the US West Coast, Pacific hurricanes, wildfires and volcanic plumes in the Pacific region.
GOES-18 also has a lightning rod to detect and locate lightning strikes within the satellite’s field of view. The spacecraft houses a transponder to receive and relay distress messages, part of a global space-based search and rescue repeater network.
GOES-18 is the third satellite in NOAA’s latest generation of geostationary weather satellites. The first, GOES-16, was launched in 2016 and is operational off the US East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean, an area ripe for hurricane development.
A fourth and final current-generation satellite, called GOES-U, is under construction for launch in 2024.
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