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GOES-U Heads for Geostationary Orbit

NASA and NOAA’s GOES-U satellite heads for GEO atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, where it will observe the Western Hemisphere.
Credit: David Diebold

NASA and SpaceX have launched GOES-U, the final Earth observation satellite in the GOES-R series. The spacecraft was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, dodging inclement weather to lift off from Launch Complex 39A at 5:26 PM EDT on July 25th, 2024. Rounding out the final generation of the GOES system, GOES-U will carry the torch of weather observation and forecasting for NOAA, paving the way for a new class of successors to these important Earth-observing spacecraft.

Falcon Heavy climbs away from LC-39A on its tenth mission, the second for NASA’s Launch Service Provider program.
Credit: Nickolas Wolf

The Falcon Heavy launch vehicle completed a nominal ascent, with both side boosters, B1072.1 and B1086.1, returning to touch down at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2. The core stage, B1087, was expended during the flight. Notably, the upper stage was outfitted to perform an extended coast, including additional batteries and a characteristic grey stripe visible at the base of the stage. This extra hardware enabled the stage to perform three separate burns to place GOES-U into a geostationary transfer orbit.

One of Falcon Heavy’s side boosters return to the Landing Zone after their boostback burn.
Credit: Brandon Berkoff

The GOES satellite series has been a critical component of NOAA’s ability to track and understand weather across our planet since 1975. From their vantage point in geostationary orbit, GOES satellites appear to hover over the Americas at all times, continuously scanning the Earth to monitor storms, lightning, fires, and other events as they occur. The system also monitors space weather events originating from the sun, such as the coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that struck the Earth in May, generating aurorae visible to many throughout the United States. GOES-U will take up the mantle of GOES-East from its predecessor, GOES-16, keeping the system refreshed with new hardware while NASA and NOAA work to develop the next generation of spacecraft. Additionally, GOES-U introduces a new instrument to help extend coverage of the solar corona, the source of CMEs like the ones seen earlier this year.

Coronal mass ejections pose a significant risk to spacecraft and infrastructure on Earth, which GOES-U’s instruments will help to monitor.

Earth observation is a core tenet of the work done by both NASA and NOAA to improve life for people all over the world, and is a field which will only grow more important in the near future. Climate change is already increasing the frequency of severe weather events, including record temperatures and what is proving to be a highly active hurricane season just this year. Operating under the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA is charged with protecting communities and their economic interests from environmental threats. The information provided by systems like GOES helps the agency respond to developing situations in real time, while monitoring long-term trends to help prepare for the future.

GOES-U separates from the upper stage, with Earth hanging in the background.

To ensure these crucial capabilities are preserved as the GOES system nears the end of its useful lifetime, NASA and NOAA are already drawing plans for its successor: Geostationary Extended Observations, or GeoXO. In addition to incrementally improving on its predecessor, GeoXO’s instrumentation is specially tailored to help NOAA address emergent threats like climate change, and the system is set to begin operation in the 2030s. Preliminary design of these satellites is currently underway, while critical design is expected to occur next year. This transition is similar to the replacement of NOAA’s JPSS system in low Earth orbit, which will be succeeded by the NEON series later this decade.

With the mission well on its way, people in the Western Hemisphere can rest easy knowing there is a watchful eye in the sky.
Credit: Nick Boone

With its journey to geostationary orbit complete, GOES-U will begin its commissioning and checkout period, and should be fully operational before the end of the year. Though it will be the last to bear the GOES name, GOES-U is merely the latest link in a legacy of Earth observation which will continue for decades to come.

Edited by Nik Alexander

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