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Environmental Satellite To Improve Weather Forecasting

By Daniel Baxter

March 9, 2010 - On Thursday marked a significant milestone in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) efforts overseeing the safety of the nation’s commercial space transportation industry with the 201st FAA licensed commercial rocket launch.  The vehicle carried into orbit an environmental satellite to improve weather forecasting and help monitor environmental events.  FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation safety inspectors were present to monitor operations of the Delta IV booster.

“With, the retirement this year of NASA's Space Shuttle, the nation will now look to the commercial space industry to take on added responsibilities, including commercial human space flights and replenishing equipment and technologies at the International Space Station,” said FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation George Nield.  “Americans can feel confident that FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation will be on the job monitoring and overseeing the safety of these new and exciting activities,” he added.

“Our geostationary satellites are the nation’s weather sentinels in the sky,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “With more than 35 million Americans living in hurricane prone areas and more than 1,000 tornadoes touching down in the U.S. annually, we need the reliable, accurate data that these satellites provide.”

GOES-P is the final spacecraft in the latest series of NOAA geostationary satellites, capturing higher resolution images of weather patterns and atmospheric measurements than those provided by earlier satellites. The higher resolution allows forecasters to pinpoint the location of severe weather with greater accuracy. 

GOES-P also provides better data for space and solar weather thanks to its Solar X-Ray Imager. The SXI imager is to space weather forecasting what satellite images are to hurricane forecasting. This data will improve forecasts and warnings for solar disturbances, protecting billions of dollars of commercial and government assets in space and on the ground. This vital information will also reduce the effect of power surges for the satellite-based electronics and communications industry. 

NOAA has two operational GOES satellites hovering 22,300 miles above the equator – GOES-12, in the east, and GOES-11, in the west – each provide continuous observations of environmental conditions of North, Central and South America and surrounding oceans. GOES-13, currently in a storage orbit, is being moved to replace GOES-12, which will be positioned to provide coverage for South America as part of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems, or GEOSS. Since the first GOES launch in 1974, these satellites have supplied the data critical for fast, accurate weather forecasts and warnings, detecting solar storm activity and relaying distress signals from emergency beacons. 

On March 14, GOES-P will be placed in its final orbit and renamed GOES-15. Once it reaches geostationary orbit, GOES-P will undergo a series of tests for approximately six months before completing its “check-out” phase. After check out, GOES-P will be placed into orbital storage and remain ready for activation if one of the operational GOES fail. NOAA manages the operational environmental satellite program and establishes requirements, provides all funding and distributes environmental satellite data for the United States. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., procures and manages the development and launch of the satellites for NOAA on a cost reimbursable basis. 

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