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New weather satellite opens its eyes on western U.S.

New weather satellite opens its eyes on western U.S. Photo: File
Final full-disk image from GOES 11. Credit: NOAA

There was a changing of the guard 22,300 miles above Earth on Tuesday as an 11-year-old weather observatory gave way to its replacement to cover the western view of the Americas. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 11, or GOES 11 for short, downlinked its final visible-light, full-disk image on Monday at 2100 GMT as it prepared for retirement.

The craft was launched from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas 2A rocket back in May 2000 under the name GOES L and entered service in June 2006. Now, it will be maneuvered into a graveyard orbit 135 miles higher than the geostationary satellite belt and decommissioned on Dec. 15.

"With its steady eye on dangerous weather conditions, GOES 11 served America well, providing the critical images and atmospheric measurements NOAA meteorologists needed to produce life-saving forecasts," said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA's Satellite and Information Service.

As the GOES-West spacecraft in the tandem satellite team watching the Americas for weather forecasters, the western bird tracks Pacific hurricanes, storm systems approaching land from the ocean and wildfires in the western U.S. NOAA also says the onboard search and rescue communications transponder aboard the craft also helped save hundreds of lives, from lost hikers to sinking sailboats.

The new spacecraft entering service Tuesday is the GOES 15 satellite, which was launched atop a Delta 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral in March 2010 under the name GOES P. It underwent on-orbit testing and then entered into storage mode awaiting operational duty.

The craft is drifting toward the proper position at 135 degrees West longitude over the equator in geostationary orbit, about halfway between Hawaii and the mainland.

NOAA and NASA deployed three next-generation weather watchers between 2006 and 2010. The first one, launched with the name GOES N and rebranded GOES 13 once in orbit, entered service as the GOES-East observatory last year. It is parked in geostationary orbit at 75 degrees West longitude over the equator.

GOES 14, formerly GOES O, remains as the on-orbit spare at 105 degrees West, ready to be pressed into service within days when needed.

The GOES program has a long history of providing the weather imagery seen daily during news broadcasts, allowing meteorologists to track conditions and forecast the future.

The GOES N, O and P series, built by Boeing, offers sharper vision and extended life to provide constant observations of clouds, atmospheric conditions and severe weather. They also carry Solar X-ray Imagers to study the Sun and its storms that can impact upset navigation and communications signals and induce glitches into power grids on Earth.

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