Latest NASA satellite in advanced fleet of weather-tracking crafts set to launch Tuesday

A Colorado-built satellite provided real-time data on the boundaries of the Marshall wildfire that destroyed 1,084 homes in Boulder County. The latest addition to the fleet of advanced weather-tracking crafts providing that kind of information and more is set to launch Tuesday.

The satellite is a collaboration between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The satellite called GOES-T, short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, is the latest in a series built by Lockheed Martin Space in Jefferson County.

Liftoff is scheduled during a two-hour window that opens at 2:38 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on Tuesday at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The satellite will ride on an Atlas V rocket launched by United Launch Alliance, based in Centennial.

“The previous GOES satellite launched on March 1, 2018, so we’re hoping that day proves lucky again,” said Shelby Mason, a senior systems engineer at Lockheed Martin.

The GOES-T satellite is the third in a series that is positioned at the equator and orbits the Earth at the Earth’s speed. It will be called GOES-18 once in orbit, joining GOES-16 and GOES-17, which will become a spare when the new satellite is in place.

The new satellite will take over the west position and track weather and fires and collect data from the area covering Alaska, western Canada and the western U.S. Mason said the satellite will also cover parts of Central America, South America and the Pacific Ocean.

“One of the great things about the GOES satellites is their incredible resolution. They are providing so many images within seconds,” Mason said.

The satellite will scan the Earth five times faster and with four times the resolution and three times the number of channels than previous GOES series satellites, according to Lockheed Martin.

The satellites provide data on developing storms in the Pacific, hurricanes, lightning strikes and wildfires in real time. NASA and NOAA use the information for forecasts as well as research.

The satellite, about the size of a small school bus, is the third built by Lockheed in the series, called GOES-R. A fourth one is planned to launch in 2024.

The craft has a solar array that’s roughly 20 feet long and will be folded up until the satellite is in orbit. A suite of  instruments includes the geostationary lightning mapper. It will track lightning across the country, take hundreds of images every second and allow meteorologists to quickly size up intensifying storms.

Another instrument is the solar ultraviolet imager, which can predict solar events that could disrupt power utilities, communication or navigation systems on Earth.

Mason said the satellites are part of a system that receives and helps broadcast signals about search-and-rescue efforts. The satellites’ purpose is to save lives and property, she said.

“And as we’re experiencing different climate events that become more extreme, ultimately as a symptom of climate change, it makes GOES and its purpose much more relevant,” Mason said.

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