To Keep an Eye on the Weather, NOAA GOES P


—Image courtesy NOAA

Next week NASA will launch the latest in a series of satellites run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designed to track extreme weather events from space.

Known as the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, or GOES, each craft carries a letter designation until it arrives in orbit, when it is renamed with a number.

Proving that someone should really think about such naming conventions beforehand, the craft slated to launch on March 2 will be GOES P.

If only GOES was a series of probes headed to Uranus

Done snickering? Phew, OK.

In all seriousness, GOES P will play on important role in NOAA’s efforts to provide continuous coverage of weather events—from tornadoes and hurricanes to flash floods and solar storms—across all 50 U.S. states.

The satellites sit in geostationary orbit, which means each one is “fixed” in place over a particular geographic region.

Here, for example, is a color-enhanced picture from GOES 11, aka GOES WEST, of conditions along the Pacific coast right now:


—Image courtesy NOAA

By watching for changes over time in things such as cloud cover and temperature, NOAA can track the formation of major events, hopefully offering enough warning to get people out of Nature’s way.

GOES P will join GOES 14 as a back-up satellite, to be “stored” in orbit and turned on only if another GOES satellite stops functioning.

GOES 13 was also launched as an orbital spare in 2006, but it will soon be brought online permanently to replace GOES 12, which is being reassigned to keep watch over South America as part of the [also humorously named] Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

In case you’re wondering, GOES 1 was launched in 1975. If GOES P makes it into space and is pronounced operational, it will become GOES 15.

GOES 3 and 7 were used as communications satellites, while the rest of 1 through 10 were either decommissioned or—in the case of GOES G—didn’t make it into orbit.