The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-S (GOES-S) is set to launch this week. Once it reaches final orbit, it is to be renamed GOES-West. Together with GOES-East, which is already in orbit, its purpose is to provide precise images of the weather conditions over the United States. In particular, they are designed to track cyclones, storms, fog, and wildfires. These satellites are part of the larger GOES-R series, with the first one successfully launched in November of 2016.

NASA and NOAA have already gained important information about extreme weather conditions thanks to images and observations captured by GOES-East. Researchers are able to access this data faster, leading to more accurate forecasting and better-timed warnings and community alerts. While one of their primary objectives is to study this data, the ultimate goal is to figure out ways to predict extreme weather conditions with enough time to save lives. This means improving the accuracy of each forecast, as well as being able to predict the precise path of storms, wildfires, and other life-threating weather conditions occur.

Researchers hope the GOES-R constellation can provide the data needed to develop advanced systems, capable of alerting authorities when conditions reach critical levels. While GOES-East has already provided useful information, GOES-S, carrying six packages of observation instruments, should provide researchers access to more precise images covering a much larger area.

GOES-S, constructed by Lockheed Martin, is the product of a partnership between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). System director Tim Walsh told reporters that there are plans to extend coverage throughout North and Central America, all the way to New Zealand. Thanks to the position of these satellites, researchers can access images of high-latitude areas in places such as Alaska, where imagery was previously unavailable.

With launches beginning in 1975, the GOES satellite systems have helped researchers study weather patterns for decades, with many calling them the true backbone of forecasting. Images seen in local weather forecasts across the country are often taken directly from the GOES satellite constellations. Meteorologists use these images to predict and tract cyclones, tornados, as well as to monitor extreme storms, fog, and wildfires.

Satellites developed within the last three years have vastly improved in terms of image quality. GOES-East and GOES-S are capable of returning high-quality images of an entire hemisphere in less than 15 minutes. They are also built to scan the entire continental US in less than five minutes. In the event of a hurricane or other hotspot condition, they can scan a precise area once every 30 seconds. This type of power is incredibly useful for tracking rapidly moving storms and fires, helping to give government agencies valuable information that could lead to more efficient evacuations and alerts.

The satellite is set to launch as part of the payload on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. In the event of a weather delay, NASA and NOAA have reserved a backup window the follow day, to ensure the satellite can be launched relatively soon. GOES-S should reach full orbit and become completely functional later this year. As a result, of this addition to the existing geostationary weather constellation, NOAA’s mission to study weather patterns can continue throughout 2036.