Tag Archives: GOES-16

Space news catchup! Vega, Blue Origin, GOES-16’s lightning mapper, and more!

It’s been really busy lately, so I haven’t has as much time to post as I’d like.  So today I will make up for it with a bunch of space news updates!

First off, a rocket launch is always fun.  Arianespace’s Vega launcher placed the Sentinel 2B environmental monitoring satellite into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana:

Meanwhile, GOES-16 continues its commissioning phase.  As part of that, it has returned its first view of lightning from 22,000 miles away, a demonstration of its incredible capacity at this range.  The green lines represent the coast of Texas.  The lightning is all in real time, and is overlaid over an image taken at the same time by GOES-16’s revolutionary Advanced Baseline Imager.

This full-disk image was created from data from the same instrument, and shows total lightning energy recorded over a one-hour period (an hour which included the image above; that really bright spot in this image is the same storm system over Texas):

And then let’s go back to rockets!  Blue Origin unveiled their New Glenn rocket today with an animation depicting its flight profile.  It is definitely similar to the strategy SpaceX is using, but one difference is that the engine, BE-4, will also by flying on another rocket, ULA’s Vulcan.  Another difference is the strakes.  It looks quite lovely, and I hope we’ll get to see it fly soon.  They do already have a customer for it: the first flight customer will be Eutelsat.

And then, how about some good news on the political front?  Cutting NASA has long been a bipartisan pasttime, but the tides seem to be changing.  A strong bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives voted to pass the NASA Authorization Bill, the first time they’ve managed to do so despite annual attempts in the past six years.  (NASA has been operating under continuing resolutions instead.)  This bill budgets $19.5 billion for NASA in 2017.  Of course, now we have to see what actually gets appropriated; that’s a separate battle, and will start with the White House federal budget request.  So cross your fingers, space geeks!

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GOES-16 catches the Moon

I have a particular fondness for pictures of the Earth and Moon together.  NOAA’s latest weather satellite, the ground-breaking GOES-16, produced this particularly stunning example.  It’s currently in its commissioning phase, so it isn’t yet contributing to weather forecasting.  But it will, and when it does, it will be spectacular.  This image was taken from geosynchronous orbit — 22,000 miles away.  Earth and Moon are natural color, and this is not a composite — this is the image it actually took.  It can be surprising to see the Moon look so dark; we’re used to seeing it so bright in our night sky.  But it’s really because the Earth is so much brighter.  The Moon is of course not a usual target for a GOES satellite; but it still will take pictures of the Moon every now and again for calibration purposes, since unlike the Earth, the Moon looks very much the same from one orbit to the next.  For now, though, this image exists mostly to be beautiful.  Enjoy it!


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100th EELV launches successfully, with a new generation for weather forecasting

An Atlas 541 (the second-heaviest configuration Atlas V in active use) blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Station today, ferrying the massive GOES-R weather satellite into its geosynchronous transfer orbit.  This was the one hundred launch of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program, created by the USAF in the 1990s and ultimately producing the Atlas V (by General Dynamics, then Lockheed Martin) and the Delta IV (by Boeing).  It is not likely to ever reach its 200th flight; both vehicles are due to be replaced by a newer rocket, the Vulcan, in a few years.  But the program has enjoyed a remarkable success rate — 98 flawless flights, 2 ending in suboptimal orbits.  That is an exceptionally rare success rate in rocketry.

The spacecraft, operated by NASA on behalf of  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is the first of a fleet of four next-generation geosynchronous weather satellites; total cost of the program, including development and operation, is $11 billion.  But it’s an enormously valuable investment, because these satellites will be equipped like no other weather satellites.  They will be able to complete

Once it reaches its perch, GOES-R will become GOES-16.  (They do not receive their numbers until they successfully arrive in orbit.)  It will then spend a year sitting at 89.5 degrees west, undergoing testing for its commissioning phase.  It will eventually be moved to the primary GOES perches, as either GOES-East or GOES-West.  Those two positions are currently held by GOES-13 and GOES-15.  GOES-14 is also still in orbit, currently biding its time as an on-orbit spare.  Given the enormous amounts of money involved, and the absolutely critical nature of the data these spacecraft deliver, NASA and NOAA both want them up well in advance of them going into service, just in case.

GOES-R is much more advanced than its predecessors.  It carries advanced space weather sensors, in recognition of the fact that space weather forecasting has become enormously important both to our sensitive power grid and the many spacecraft we depend upon, the first-ever lightning imager designed to operate from geostationary orbit, a camera that can complete a full-disk image in just five minutes (fast enough to create detailed animations useful in local weather forecasting), and much more.  It’s so packed with revolutionary new instruments that scientists are excited just to find out what they can do with the gargantuan flood of data these spacecraft will produce.  It’s going to be fun to see what they come up with!

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