NOAA to get new weapon in wildfire battle with satellite launch

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NOAA is spending $11 billion to buy the GOES-R, S, T and U satellites, their rockets and launch services, along with major upgrades to ground systems and data analysis infrastructure.

NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched the second in a series of next-generation weather satellites this week for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

At a news briefing this week, NOAA officials explained that the GOES weather satellite will cover North and Central America, the Pacific Ocean, and New Zealand.

With these two new satellites, NOAA's high-definition coverage will stretch from the Atlantic near West Africa, a hotbed for hurricane formation, all the way across the US and the Pacific out to New Zealand. GOES-16 also observed the uncertain path of Hurricanes Irma and the rapidly intensifying Hurricane Maria in September.

The American company United Launch Alliance (ULA) on Thursday held a launch site at Cape Canaveral (Florida) launch of a heavy launch vehicle Atlas V from the meteorological satellite GOES-S.

"When it. becomes operational later this year, GOES-S will see the west in true high-definition, and along with the remaining satellites in our GOES-R series, will extend the life of NOAA's geostationary satellite constellation through 2036", said Tim Walsh, acting director of NOAA's GOES-R program. After a period of on-orbit test and checkout, GOES-17 will be operational as GOES-West, providing coverage of the western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Ocean.

"For the first time, space-based observations from geostationary satellites and ground-based observations such as Doppler weather radars are in cadence with each other, providing the ability to create a top-to-bottom, linked profile of a severe thunderstorm through direct observation", Calhoun added.

These early successes prompted National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini to declare that GOES-16's services were "better than we expected" while at the launch for its high-tech partner satellite.

As Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas coast, the satellite revealed the clouds sinking in the eye and the eye expanding as the storm morphed from a category 2 to 4, Uccellini said. "And NOAA's satellite data provides the backbone for the global observing system, and is the critical element for weather forecasting in the extended ranges".

Two more satellites are part of this mission and scheduled for launch in 2020 and 2024.