PALO ALTO, Calif. - NASA launched a new weather satellite Thursday afternoon known for now as GOES-17, from Florida with advanced technology to improve West Coast storm forecasting and to detect lightning strikes responsible for starting wildland fires.
Some of the key instruments were developed by teams of scientists at Lockheed Martin's advanced tech lab in Palo Alto.
GOES-17 later this year will replace the existing GOES-West satellite, which has tracked weather conditions over the Pacific Ocean and Western U.S. for about a decade. GOES is an acronym for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. It will be positioned 22,300 miles above the equator. At launch, the GOES-17 was referenced as GOES-S.
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Once it reaches orbit, it will become GOES-17. It will become GOES-West when it is fully tested and positioned to replace the existing GOES-West satellite.
There are six instruments or payloads aboard the new satellite, each with specific tasks. Dr. Samantha Edgington, a physicist who received her Ph.D. from CalTech, is the chief scientist on a team of 70 at Lockheed Martin who worked on one of the instruments, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper or GLM. It's this device that can see and track lightning from space, whether the strikes are cloud-to-cloud or cloud-to-earth. Earth lightning strikes are the ones that can last a second or two, setting vegetation or wildland fires.
She showed ABC7 News video of lightning tracked by a GLM aboard the existing GOES-East satellite.
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By having two advanced weather satellites focused on U.S. weather conditions, one primary in the East and one primary in the West, meteorologists, firefighters and many other specialists will have unparalleled data to give advance warning of potentially dangerous conditions, perhaps doubling the warning time that exists today for tornadoes, for example.
Any passenger who has ever been in a plane that encounters turbulence or lightning or both will appreciate that the new GOES-17 satellite also will guide pilots to avoid such conditions.
Once in orbit, GOES-17 will undergo a six-month test phase before it is positioned in the slot occupied by the GOES-West satellite it is replacing.