Suitland, MD, on the outskirts of Washington. "Mission
Control" for NOAA's network of GOES satellites and ground support
stands for "Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites."
They are the nation's eyes in "geosynchronous" orbit some 23,000
miles/35,800 kms above Earth. "Geosync" means they always keep station
above the same point on Earth.
here in a clean room before launch, they carry cameras which bring
us the cloud patterns seen on local newscasts and, just as important,
instruments producing "soundings" of Earth's atmosphere, revealing
information about temperature, moisture, the oceans and ozone.
any one time there are 2 satellites in orbit, covering the East and
West coasts. GOES 8 is at 75 degrees West longitude (looking down
on the East Coast and the Atlantic) and GOES 10 is at 135 degrees
West, (covering the Pacific and Hawaii.) A 3rd satellite, GOES 11,
is also in orbit, providing a spare in case anything goes wrong!
GOES has a camera which takes pictures in optical light: mapped onto
a grid of the continent, you can track clouds, winds, and water vapor.
As NWS Director Jack Kelly says, GOES satellites help us see both
"the big picture and small-scale storm features."
there's a lot more going on than can be seen with the unaided human
eye. That's why GOES and other satellites also carry instruments that
"see" at other wavelengths of light.
GOES carries infrared sensors which are especially important in detecting
the heat signatures of hurricaneslike Hurricane Andrew pictured
hereand tornadoes. GOES and other advances have helped the NWS
improve forecasts times for severe weather of all kinds, resulting
in an average lead time of 50.6 minutes for flash floods, a vast improvement
over just 10 years ago!
GOES data, processed here by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centerwhich
handles the launch and initial deployment of the satellites under
contract from NOAAreveals the internal structure of hurricanes
in images of astonishing beauty as well as great scientific significance.
from both GOES satellites are beamed down to NOAA's Command and Data
Acquisition Station at Wallops, VA. The ground station passes the
data on to Suitland, and then beams back processed information to
users like the NWS, again via GOES. GOES also relays messages from
data buoys across the ocean, free-floating weather and research balloons,
and even emergency "SARSAT" calls, ("Search And Rescue Satellite Aided
Tracking.") These are very hardworking satellites!
Wallops the data is transmitted to Suitland, the Satellite Operations
Control Center or SOCC, where the spacecrafts' health is monitored,
and new commands, if any, are checked out before being uplinked to
SOCC building is busy 24/7. In addition to the GOES satellites, NOAA
also operates two Polar Operating Environmental Satellitesas
you would expect, they're called "POES"! They're used to monitor longer-term
climate as well as severe weather. In addition NOAA has taken over
operation of the Defense Department's Meteorological Satellite program.
Just like the satellites, this control room is ever-active.
staffers check out the normal operation of the spacecraft. The better
the forecasts made with the help of GOES, the more important it is
that there's no break in operationone more reason NOAA likes
to have a spare, in place, on orbit.
addition to clouds, rain, hurricanes and tornadoes, GOES data also
helps provide warnings of tsunamis and cyclones, floods and snow
depth, and works with 3 other similar satellites, operated by other
nations, to provide unprecedented global coverage of our ever-changing
the nation, NOAA staffers transform GOES and a steady stream of data
from balloons, ground stations and other satellites into useful forecasts,
working with new software that integrates radar, infrared and other
kinds of information into immediately comprehensible information,
all on one screen. They call this "AWIPS"but we've used up our
share of acronyms for this Site Tour!
operated by NOAA with support from NASA, has revolutionized weather
forecasting. Just a few decades ago, researchers had to visualize
hurricanes with black and white X and O's on computer printouts. Now,
thanks to GOES, we've a new view of our planet, and the weather and
climate that impacts our daily lives.