Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


GOES-16 Satellite and its Orbital Gaze

Posted on | February 7, 2017 | No Comments

“With this kind of resolution, if you were in New York City and you were taking a picture of Wrigley Field in Chicago, you’d be able to see home plate.” So says Eric Webster, vice president and general manager of environmental solutions and space and intelligence systems for the Harris Corp. of Fort Wayne, Indiana about the capabilities of the newly launched GOES-16 satellite (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite). But what this statement fails to reveal is the comprehensive view of the Earth that the satellite provides and the extraordinary amount of information that can be gleaned from its images.

NASA launched the GOES-16, formerly known as GOES-R, on November 19, 2016, and after testing, it became operational earlier this year. This satellite provides powerful new eyes for monitoring potential disasters including floods and other weather-related dangers. It was built for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Denver, Colorado by Lockheed Martin, with imagers by Harris and launched in an Atlas Rocket.

With 16 different spectral channels and improved resolution, scientists can monitor a variety of events such as hurricanes, volcanoes, and even wildfires. The satellite’s two visible channels, ten infrared, and four near-infrared channels allows the identification and monitoring of a number of earth and atmospheric events. Unlike the earlier built GOES-13, it can combine data from the ABI’s sixteen spectral channels to produce high-resolution composite images.

Operating from geosynchronous orbit roughly 36,000 km (22,240 miles) above the equator, the satellite can take images with its Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument of the entire earth disk. It can also focus on just a continent or a smaller region that may be impacted by a specific climate event. Parked at 89.5 degrees West longitude, the satellite has a good view of the Americas all the way to the coast of Africa. (A future GOES satellite will focus on the Pacific side) It can take a full disk image of the Earth every 15 minutes and a smaller image of the continental U.S. every 5 minutes, and a specific locale can be captured every 30 seconds.

Spac0559 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library
Photo from the NOAA Photo Library

What is most significant is what the satellite can do to inform the public of weather events and potential disasters. It can monitor water vapor in the atmosphere and depict rainfall rates. It can gauge melting snowpacks, predict spreading wildfires and measure the poisonous sulfur dioxide emissions of volcanic eruptions. It can sense sea surface temperatures and provide real-time estimates of the intensity of hurricanes, including central pressure and maximum sustained winds.

One of the most valuable benefits will be to monitor the key ingredients of severe weather like lightning and tornadoes. The GOES-16 also utilizes the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) to monitor the weather for severe conditions, primarily by detecting lighting. It uses high-speed cameras that take pictures 200 times per second allowing it to detect cloud-to-ground lightning and also lightning between clouds. These features allows it to decrease the warning time for severe weather events.

GOES-16 will reduce the risks associated with weather and other potential disasters throughout the Americas and provide much needed support for first responders as well as policy makers.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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