Sophisticated new U.S. weather observatory being readied for launch August 22, 2016Justin Ray The GOES R weather satellite folded up for launch. Credit: Lockheed Martin
CAPE CANAVERAL — On the cusp of advancing U.S. weather forecasting, a powerful new satellite was shipped from its Denver factory to the Cape today in preparation for launch in November. The first-of-its-kind observatory dubbed GOES R was flown aboard an Air Force C-5 transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin to the Kennedy Space Center to initiate its launch campaign. Liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is planned for Nov. 4 at 5:40 p.m. EDT (2140 GMT) from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41. The daily launch window extends 120 minutes. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R will orbit 22,300 miles above the equator in lockstep with the Americas to provide unprecedented new weather-forecast tools. GOES R, plus three future sister-satellites, is a collaborative project between NASA — which ordered the spacecraft, instruments and launchers — and operator NOAA. Lockheed Martin built the craft. “It will provide continuous imagery and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s western hemisphere, and also support space weather prediction,” said Sandra Smalley, head of NASA’s Joint Agency Satellite Division. “It’s the next generation (of GOES satellites) providing a major improvement in quality, quantity and timeliness of the data collected. Overall, it will provide visual and IR imagery, lightning mapping, space weather monitoring and solar imaging. It will accomplish all of this using six instruments.”
An artist’s concept of the GOES R spacecraft. Credit: NOAA
The primary instrument — the Advanced Baseline Imager — will show the motion of clouds and weather systems in visible and infrared bands that television meteorologists use in newscasts. The instrument will monitor water vapor, measure land and sea surface temperature and depict rainfall rates. It will produce real-time estimates of central pressure and maximum sustained winds for tracking the intensity of hurricanes, and measure the key ingredients of severe weather like winds, cloud growth and lightning to improve tornado warnings. The ABI will collect three times more data at four times better resolution while providing more than five times faster coverage than current GOES satellites, NOAA says. GOES R also carries the first Geostationary Lightning Mapper. It will use a high-speed camera to detect in-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning over the Americas and surrounding ocean areas. GLM promises to increase the warning time for severe weather. GOES R also has instruments to monitor the Sun, detect solar storm eruptions and alert when the space weather arrives at Earth. Such storms can impact communications, disrupt power grids, threaten the health of astronauts and harm satellites. The Atlas 5 rockets that will launch GOES R — and GOES S in 2018 — will fly in the 541 configuration with a five-meter fairing, four solid rocket boosters and a single-engine Centaur upper stage. An illustration of GOES R being deployed by Centaur. Credit: Lockheed Martin
A three-hour ascent featuring three burns by the Centaur will deliver the craft into a customized high-perigee geosynchronous transfer orbit of 3,600 by 22,000 miles at 12.9 degrees inclination. Five burns of the satellite’s main engine will bring the craft to geostationary orbit within 8 days of launch. “They are huge satellites. GOES R is getting ready to launch, so it’s fully integrated, and GOES S is well along the way,” said Smalley. “GOES R has had some technical challenges, so (GOES) S has basically been used as a spares spacecraft for (GOES) R, but they’ve made great progress.” After touching down at the Shuttle Landing Facility at 3:16 p.m. today, the satellite will be taken to the commercial Astrotech processing facility in Titusville this evening to be unboxed from its shipping container for the start of final testing, fueling and encapsulation. “This milestone is a great achievement for the entire GOES-R team, who have worked tirelessly to get the spacecraft to Florida,” said Greg Mandt, NOAA’s GOES R system program director. “Moving forward, we are focused on preparing this highly advanced weather satellite for its historic launch in just a few short months.” GOES R will be renamed GOES 16 once it reaches geostationary orbit. Initially, controllers position the satellite at 89.5 degrees West longitude for an extensive year-long checkout and validation. It then awaits call-up to replace either the GOES West or GOES East operational observatories covering the U.S. The GOES program dates back to 1975. Unlike today’s three-axis stabilized satellites, the first GOES were spin-stabilized and viewed Earth only about ten percent of the time. All of the launches in the GOES satellite series are shown here aboard Delta and Atlas rockets. Photos by NASA/NOAA/ULA
The GOES R, S, T and U series is expected to sequentially extend geostationary weather satellite operations to 2036. Each satellite is capable of five years in-space storage and 10 years of use. GOES T launches in 2019 and GOES U follows in 2024. Launch vehicles have not yet been assigned to those two spacecraft. Currently, GOES 15 is the GOES West satellite at 135 degrees West longitude. It was launched as GOES P atop a Delta 4 rocket in 2010. GOES 13 — launched as GOES N in 2006 — is the GOES East satellite at 75 degrees West. The GOES 14 launched in 2009 as GOES O serves as the in-space spare, ready to be pressed into service at a moment’s notice.
This new weather satellite is a game changer — if it can survive the journey to launch By Angela Fritz August 25 at 9:06 AM
NOAA’s new GOES-R satellite is offloaded fr om a U.S. Air Force C-5 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 22. The satellite is scheduled for launch on Nov. 4. (Angela Fritz/The Washington Post)
TITUSVILLE, Fla. — The lid on a white, RV-size box is lifted off with painstaking care to prevent damaging the multimillion-dollar, next-generation weather satellite housed inside. Two dozen engineers and technicians in white jumpsuits surround the container in a 10-story airlock. I watch as the specialists execute their specific jobs. One controls the crane that raises the lid inch-by-inch; another is carrying a molecular air sampler. Two attach ropes to the lid to guide it. They are meticulous. Any disturbance — a misplaced step, exposure to the wrong air molecules, an uncontrollable sneeze — has the potential to leave the United States, and the rest of the world for that matter, without critical weather observations that save lives. If it successfully launches in November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite will monitor things like hurricanes and blizzards fr om space with higher resolution than any other U.S. satellite of its kind. It will be a game-changer for weather forecasting. “Up. Up. Up,” says the crane operator, breaking the otherwise silent focus of the room. The lid rises like a shoe box to reveal the satellite — called GOES-R — on its side and mounted to the container base. Once all of the white-clad specialists are certain the bottom of the lid has cleared the top of the satellite, the operator shifts the crane to the left. “Going south,” he announces. With ropes attached to each corner, they guide the lid to the opposite side of the airlock. Their first task is complete, but there are many more to come, and the stakes could not be higher.
The satellite’s journey began 24 hours earlier in Denver. Mounted on a specialized semi-truck, it was loaded into the cargo hold of a U.S. Air Force C5-M Galaxy through the nose of the aircraft. The dark morning was chilly, but the tarmac at Buckley Air Force Base warmed up quickly as the sun rose above the horizon. It was early, but the energy was palpable. I arrived with two dozen Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians, safety specialists and quality assurance experts at 4:45 a.m., to transport NOAA’s next major weather satellite to Kennedy Space Center. It’s the project this team has been tirelessly working on for more than two years, and they want to see it fly. Their final product is a towering monument of technology. GOES-R is the size of a small school bus. It weighs about 6,300 pounds. Transporting the behemoth is a challenge, but it needs to get to Florida. It is scheduled to be launched into space on Nov. 4. Lockheed secured GOES-R in a box the size of an RV. Super-pure air circulated through the storage container. The satellite’s air is purer than what scuba divers breathe. The spacecraft cannot come in contact with any Earthly substance now; the touch of a bare fingertip could contaminate it. The mobile clean room was hoisted onto Lockheed’s custom-built tractor-trailer named Eagle, designed specifically for hauling spacecraft. It carries the gas needed to maintain pure air in the container. The hydraulics on Eagle keep the container level, even when the truck is driving on an incline — say, when it is being loaded onto a C-5. The fit was snug — we had to walk over tie-down chains and scurry across ledges to get from the front of the plane to the back — but the entire semi-truck and massive pieces of mounting equipment were strapped down for the ride. The C-5M Galaxy is a hulking aircraft. The Air Force has used its C-5 fleet for heavy-duty hauling since 1969. Sometimes the planes transport spacecraft; other times they move supplies to and from the Middle East. “It doesn’t matter if it’s peacetime or wartime, we stay busy,” our pilot, Capt. Paul Jaskewicz, told me as he listened to air traffic control in the background. We crossed into Memphis airspace and were asked to adjust altitude. A small twist of a knob and it was done. Jaskewicz has a master’s degree in aeronautical science and has been in the U.S. Air Force since 2006. We chatted about his career, and he told me he hopes to work for a commercial airline when his service is complete. Piloting a C-5 and instructing midair refueling courses should qualify him.
(Angela Fritz/The Washington Post)
Jaskewicz said this mission was on the heavy side. At 31,000 feet, we were hauling 130,000 pounds of semi-truck, satellite and equipment, which brought the total aircraft weight to 740,000 pounds. I heard another crew member from the passenger cabin through my headset. Lockheed Martin had a request — the air coming out of the ducts in the cargo hold was too hot. They needed to turn the temperature down. To get to the passenger cabin, we had to climb a precariously steep ladder, which made me reevaluate some of the heavier items I crammed into my backpack. It was dark and there were only two windows, which was fine by these passengers who had a 3 a.m. wake-up call. Airmen in green flight suits served as flight attendants. We didn’t anticipate needing life jackets, one airman assured us, but this is how to inflate them. The seat belts are operated like so, he demonstrated. “It’s pretty much the same as a commercial aircraft.” Pretty much, except for the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that wafted down the aisle halfway through the flight, and the multimillion-dollar spacecraft strapped down under our feet.
Meteorologists have been waiting anxiously for GOES-R since late 2007, when NOAA began to award contracts for the project. The three satellites that currently monitor U.S. weather are reaching the end of their life span. Should one of these satellites fail, NOAA would be without a backup. If two fail, the United States would be missing critical weather data. The GOES-R satellite has six instruments, two of which are weather-related. The Advanced Baseline Imager, developed by Harris Corp., is the “camera” that looks down on Earth. The pictures it sends back will be clearer and more detailed than what’s created by the current satellites. The ABI can scan half the Earth — or the “full disk” — in five minutes. If forecasters want to home in on an area of severe weather, it can scan that region every 30 seconds. Weather radars can’t even scan faster than six minutes. The other weather instrument, the Global Lightning Mapper, will continuously track and transmit all lightning strikes across North America and its surrounding oceans. Developed by Lockheed, it can detect the changes in light on Earth and thus the rate and intensity of lightning in thunderstorms and hurricanes. Sudden increases in lightning activity within thunderstorms — which the lightning mapper will detect — often signal that they are becoming severe and violent. All of the data from these instruments will be fed into models to improve weather forecasts. It could extend the lead time of tornado warnings and predict the location of flash flooding before it begins. In other words, these instruments will save more lives.
Three hours after takeoff from Buckley, we landed at Kennedy Space Center on the same runway the Space Shuttles used until the program was discontinued in 2011. The C-5 crawled to a stop a few acres from NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building, which was constructed in 1966 to build the Saturn series of rockets. They would later launch the Apollo missions into space. It would be hard not to consider, at least for a moment, the magnitude of the events that unfolded here over the decades. NASA put men on the moon. The Kennedy tarmac was blazing hot. It was 95 degrees and the humidity was oppressive. We were wearing Day-Glo polyester safety vests. They’re visible from a mile away, but do nothing for personal ventilation. The Air Force crew were sweating through their full green jumpsuits. The nose of the C-5 opened like the hood of a car to reveal the cargo hold. The ramp lowered to the ground and the team carefully offloaded some of the equipment. Then it was time for GOES-R. The truck named Eagle was painstakingly backed into the cargo bay in Denver, which made the afternoon’s task marginally easier. All they needed to do was drive Eagle down a ramp and out of the aircraft — how hard could it possibly be? The operation began around 5 p.m. and didn’t conclude until 7 p.m. For two hours, we baked in the Florida sun while directing GOES-R onto the tarmac. When it was over, the truck had moved no more than 200 feet. Later in the evening, Eagle carried GOES-R to Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, wh ere it was unloaded into the last building it will ever be in before it is launched.
Amanda Kindblad downed a Red Bull on her way to the clean room second shift. “I also had coffee this morning,” the 30-year-old from Valencia, Calif., assures me. The only way I can tell her apart from everyone else in the room is her strikingly light gray eyes — the sole feature visible through her clean-room suit. Kindblad is a senior specialist technician for Lockheed. She was my neighbor on the early-morning flight from Denver the day before. She will live in Florida for three months while they prep and test. We’re sitting across from one another with a dividing rope between us. We’re both wearing white clean suits, but Kindblad’s is more technical and it covers her face. That’s why she’s sitting on the satellite side of the divider and I’m not. “I love our launches, even though you’re far away from home for a while,” she tells me. “It’s like a little family. I see these guys more than my own family.” It’s Kindblad’s third launch campaign. Until now, she has mainly worked on commercial military communications and satellites. She has an airframe and power plant license, which the FAA requires for anyone performing aircraft maintenance. Hired right out of college, she has been with Lockheed for eight years.
(Angela Fritz/The Washington Post)
“I’m what’s known as a blanket lady,” Kindblad says casually. “There’s only two of us.” She points to the upright satellite, which is covered in a protective material that looks a lot like tinfoil. “You see how everything on the outside is covered?” she asks. “That’s one of my specialties. They call them ‘garbage bags,’ but it’s MLI — multi-layer insulation.” It’s the last but possibly the most important thing that goes on the satellite. It protects the instruments from the harmful radiation of space. “That’s the reason they wanted me on this project, for that work,” Kindblad tells me. She loves her job. Behind her, I watch white figures crawl all around the spacecraft to check and double-check every bolt before moving on to the next step. My imagination runs away with visions of a slip or a dropped wrench. After all, these white figures are only human. “Everyone has to be very close to the spacecraft for the things that we’re doing,” Jeffrey Coyne says. He’s the assembly, test and launch operations manager for GOES-R. “You have to make sure that you know wh ere every part of you is.” He chuckles at the mildly irritated rumblings among our non-Lockheed group about the progress speed. “Yeah, it doesn’t move fast here,” Coyne says, smiling. “But that’s intentional.” The strict, step-by-step, checked and rechecked process exists for a good reason — enormously expensive mishaps can occur without it. Lockheed faced this reality in 2003 when a NOAA satellite slid off its mount and fell to the floor as engineers attempted to move it into the vertical position. A NASA investigation concluded that the accident happened because a technician removed the 24 bolts that secured the satellite to the mounting plate without logging the action, and the technicians who executed the adjustment failed to check that the bolts were in place. The mishap severely damaged the spacecraft and cost the project a significant delay and $135 million — a price shared by Lockheed Martin and NOAA.
(Angela Fritz/The Washington Post)
In the Astrotech airlock, GOES-R program manager Tim Gasparrini is cautiously confident. “We won’t know until we run through inspection and do all the electrical testing if the spacecraft made it safely,” Gasparrini admits when I ask him if he thinks everything went well. A fleeting moment of hesitation passes. “But you know, it’s designed to, so we don’t have any worries,” he added. GOES-R has months of testing ahead of it in preparation for the Nov. 4 launch. The Lockheed team will clean the instruments and check that the spacecraft itself is in good health — its engine and thrusters need to get the satellite into orbit once it reaches space. Lockheed Martin, Harris and the other companies and organizations that developed components on GOES-R are in the process of creating three more satellites just like it. To complete the next-generation satellite constellation, GOES-S and GOES-T are slated for launch in 2018 and 2019, respectively. GOES-U is expected to launch in 2024. If the spacecraft clears its tests and the November launch is successful, GOES-R will be transmitting the best satellite data NOAA has ever had by late 2017. Better weather forecasts are just around the corner.
Oct 18, 2016 NOAA continues to work with its partners -- NASA, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing -- to assess the infrastructure and facilities necessary for GOES-R launch following Hurricane Matthew. Additional assessments are underway to fully understand the impact the storm had on local facilities. Before Hurricane Matthew, the launch date was set for November 4, 2016. Once Matthew passed, the launch team began an initial assessment of the launch infrastructure and determined that a move of the launch date is needed based on the storm's impacts. ULA, for planning purposes, has requested a new range date of no earlier than November 16, pending approval from the 45th Space Wing. Throughout the storm, the GOES-R spacecraft remained safe inside Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, Fla. NOAA will provide an update as new details become available.
GOES-R weather satellite’s ride to space being stacked at Cape Canaveral October 24, 2016Justin Ray File photo of Atlas 5 first stage being stacked. Credit: NASA-KSC
CAPE CANAVERAL — Technicians began the painstaking work of assembling a powerful Atlas 5 rocket today, a launcher that will deploy an advanced satellite to substantially improve U.S. weather forecasting. The United Launch Alliance vehicle is targeted for liftoff no sooner than Nov. 16 at 4:42 p.m. EST (2142 GMT). The daily launch window extends 120 minutes. Representing a major upgrade to the resolution and speed at which weather observations are collected for meteorologists, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R, or GOES-R, is the first in a four-spacecraft series developed through an $11 bilion program to ensure U.S. weather monitoring into the 2030s. This morning at Cape Canaveral’s Vertical Integration Facility, adjacent to the Complex 41 pad, the Atlas 5 first stage was erected onto the mobile launch platform to begin the rocket’s stacking campaign. The 107-foot-long bronze-colored stage is equipped with the dual-nozzled RD-180 main engine, which burns kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen during the initial four minutes of launch. The four solid-propellant boosters will attached over the next four days, each 66 feet long and weighing 103,000 pounds. The Centaur upper stage, with its single RL10 cryogenic engine that burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, will be hoisted into place Saturday. The stage comes to the VIF pre-integrated with the interstage adapter and lower sections of the bulbous nose cone that encloses the Centaur during atmospheric flight, all combined to stand over 45 feet tall. File photo shows the Centaur, interstage and base of fairing. Credit: United Launch Alliance
The encapsulated payload will be attached to the rocket early next month. The rocket is known as the 541 version of the Atlas 5, and it will weigh 1.2 million pounds at liftoff and produce 2.4 million pounds of thrust at launch. The mission, featuring three burns by the Centaur, will deliver the 11,500-pound GOES-R weather satellite into a customized high-perigee, lower-inclination geosynchronous transfer orbit for NASA and NOAA. Release from the launcher occurs three-and-a-half hours after liftoff. The Lockheed Martin-built satellite then assumes responsibility to achieve a circular geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth by firing its own main engine five times during the first two weeks of on-orbit operations. Officials are not worried about the engine problems that impacted Lockheed Martin’s MUOS 5 mobile communications satellite built for the Navy or Boeing’s Intelsat 33e commercial spacecraft earlier this summer. The GOES-R spacecraft has full redundancy to route the main engine’s fuel supply to alternate, smaller thrusters to perform orbiting raising maneuvers. Up to 18 burns would be needed and arrival in geosynchronous orbit would be delayed by two weeks, but the craft’s mission would not be adversely harmed by a main engine glitch. An artist’s concept of GOES-R firing its main engine. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Scientists will spend six months checking out the GOES-R satellite and then another six months fine-tuning the data from the instruments before the new craft will be ready for use. “Without a doubt, GOES-R will revolutionize weather forecasting as we know it. For weather forecasters, GOES-R is like going from black and white television to super high definition TV, and for the American public GOES-R will mean faster, more accurate weather forecasting and warning,” said Stephen Volz, assistant NOAA administrator for its Satellite and Information Service. “This means more lives saved. It means more time and better environmental intelligence for local officials who have to decide whether to evacuate a community ahead of an approaching hurricane.” NASA oversaw construction of the satellite and is managing its launch. NOAA will operate the craft, which will be renamed GOES-16. GOES-R’s main instrument — the Advanced Baseline Imager — will acquire vivid images of clouds and storms with more embedded data at higher clarity and much faster rates than current weather satellites. It can focus on specific targets like thunderstorms or a hurricane to collect fresh imagery every 30 seconds. The craft also carries the first-ever Geostationary Lightning Mapper to observe not only cloud-to-ground strikes but also cloud-to-cloud lightning both day and night across the Western Hemisphere to improve warnings of severe weather. Other onboard instruments will monitor the sun and solar storms that can impact communications, navigation and power systems on Earth through space weather. The GOES-R mission poster. Credit: United Launch Alliance
“Americans should take pride in that our multi-billion-dollar investment in the GOES-R represents not only our commitment to the safety and well-being of our citizens, but it benefits our neighbors throughout the Western Hemisphere and especially those in Latin America,” Volz said. “Since the early 1970s, NOAA has led the world in providing high-quality global weather data on a full and open data basis, and this is the continuation of that.” NOAA currently operates three GOES satellites — all from the previous generation that launched aboard Delta 4 rockets from 2006 through 2010 — to cover the continental U.S. and all the entire Western Hemisphere. Two craft serve as the primary GOES-East and GOES-West satellites and one is held in storage as an on-orbit spare. Which position GOES-R will fill — the eastern or western orbital slots — has not been determined. GOES-S will be launched in early 2018, followed by GOES-T in 2019 and GOES-U in 2024.
November 16 Approved as New Launch Date Oct 25, 2016
NOAA continues to work with its partners -- NASA, ULA, and the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing – preparing for the launch of the GOES-R spacecraft. The new launch date of November 16th has been approved by the 45th Space Wing and the mission team continues to make good progress recovering from the Hurricane Matthew impacts.
United Launch Alliance encapsulated the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R, GOES-R, on Oct. 21 at the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Florida near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. GOES-R will be the first satellite in a series of next-generation NOAA GOES satellites. The spacecraft is to launch aboard a ULA Atlas 5 rocket on Nov. 16. Photo credit: NASA/Charles Babir