NOAA Satellite Information System

NOAA's Geostationary and Polar-Orbiting Weather Satellites

Operating the country's system of environmental satellites is one of the major responsibilities of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). NESDIS operates the satellites and manages the processing and distribution of the millions of bits of data and images theses satellites produce daily. The primary customer is NOAA's National Weather Service. Satellite data is also shared with various Federal agencies; other countries; and the private, public, and academic sectors.

NOAA's operational weather satellite system is composed of two types of satellites: geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES) and polar-orbiting satellites. Both types of satellite are necessary for providing a complete global weather monitoring system.

A new series of GOES and polar-orbiting satellites has been developed for NOAA by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and NOAA. The new GOES-R series provide higher spatial and temporal resolution images and lightning data. The newest polar-orbiting meteorological satellites, Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), provide improved atmospheric temperature and moisture data in all-weather situations. This new technology helps the National Weather Service to provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES)

GOES satellites provide the kind of continuous monitoring necessary for intensive data analysis. They circle the Earth in a geosynchronous orbit, which means they orbit the equatorial plane of the Earth at a speed matching the Earth's rotation. This allows them to hover continuously over one position on the surface. The geosynchronous plane is about 35,800 km (22,300 miles) above the Earth, high enough to allow the satellites a full-disc view of the Earth. Because they stay above a fixed spot on the surface, they provide a constant vigil for the atmospheric "triggers" for severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, hailstorms, and hurricanes. When these conditions develop, the GOES satellites are able to monitor storm development and track their movements.

NASA launched the first GOES for NOAA in 1975. The GOES-N series includes GOES-15, which was launched in 2010.

The latest generation of GOES is the GOES-R series. The satellites in the GOES-R Series are:

GOES-R Series Spacecraft

Currently, NOAA is operating GOES-15 in the GOES West position and GOES-16 in the GOES East position.

GOES Constellation

GOES East and GOES West

The United States normally operates two meteorological satellites in geostationary orbit over the equator. Each satellite views almost a third of the Earth's surface: one monitors North and South America and the Atlantic Ocean, the other North America and the Pacific Ocean basin. GOES-16 (or GOES-East) is positioned at 75.2 W longitude and the equator, while GOES-15 (GOES-West) is positioned at 135 W longitude and the equator. The two operate together to produce a full-face picture of the Earth, day and night. GOES-17 will be moved to its GOES West position at 137 degrees West late in 2018. This figure shows the coverage provided by each satellite.

GOES 17 coverage
Illustration by David Pogorzala

For GOES-15 the main mission is carried out by the primary instruments, the Imager and the Sounder. The imager is a multichannel instrument that senses radiant energy and reflected solar energy from the Earth's surface and atmosphere. The Sounder provides data to determine the vertical temperature and moisture profile of the atmosphere, surface and cloud top temperatures, and ozone distribution.

Other instruments on board the spacecraft are a Search and Rescue transponder, a data collection and relay system for ground-based data platforms, and a space environment monitor. The latter consists of a magnetometer, an X-ray sensor, a high energy proton and alpha detector, and an energetic particles sensor. All are used for monitoring the near-Earth space environment or solar "weather." GOES-15, the newest satellite also carries a Solar X-Ray Imager (SXI).

For GOES-15 users who establish their own direct readout receiving station, the GOES satellites transmit low resolution imagery in the LRIT service. LRIT can be received with an inexpensive receiver. The highest resolution Imager and Sounder data is found in the GOES Variable (GVAR) primary data user service which requires more complex receiving equipment.

For more detailed information about the GOES-15 satellite, see the GOES N DataBook Revision 5.2.2, published 16 March 2006 by Boeing Satellite Development Center. The most recent GOES imagery can be found on the NOAA GOES website. GOES-16 imagery is available here.

The GOES-R series is a four-satellite program (GOES-R/S/T/U) that will extend the availability of the operational GOES satellite system through 2036. The Direct Broadcast services on the GOES-R Series include the GOES Rebroadcast (GRB) and High Rate Information Transmission. Emergency Managers Weather Information. Network (HRIT/EMWIN). The GOES-16 instruments are the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Magnetometer (MAG) and Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). There are three classifications of the GOES-R series instruments: nadir pointing, solar-pointing, and in-situ.

For more information on the GOES-R series, visit their website.

Polar-Orbiting Satellites

Complementing the geostationary satellites are the polar-orbiting satellites known as Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES), S-NPP, and JPSS.

The POES satellite system offers the advantage of daily global coverage, by making nearly polar orbits 14 times per day approximately 520 miles above the surface of the Earth. The Earth's rotation allows the satellite to see a different view with each orbit, and each satellite provides two complete views of weather around the world each day. NOAA partners with the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) to constantly operate two polar-orbiting satellites – one POES and one European polar-orbiting satellite called Metop.

The POES instruments include the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument and the Advanced TIROS Operational Vertical Sounder (ATOVS) suite. The EUMETSAT-provided Microwave Humidity Sounder (MHS) instrument completes the ATOVS suite. The AVHRR/ATOVS provides visible, infrared, and microwave data which is used for a variety of applications such as cloud and precipitation monitoring, determination of surface properties, and humidity profiles.

Data from the POES series supports a broad range of environmental monitoring applications including weather analysis and forecasting, climate research and prediction, global sea surface temperature measurements, atmospheric soundings of temperature and humidity, ocean dynamics research, volcanic eruption monitoring, forest fire detection, global vegetation analysis, search and rescue, and many other applications. The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is the Nation's new generation polar-orbiting operational environmental satellite system. JPSS is a collaborative program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its acquisition agent, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This interagency effort is the latest generation of U.S. polar-orbiting, non-geosynchronous environmental satellites.

JPSS was established in the President's Fiscal Year 2011 budget request (February 2010) as the civilian successor to the restructured National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). As the backbone of the global observing system, JPSS polar satellites circle the Earth from pole-to-pole and cross the equator about 14 times daily in the afternoon orbit, providing full global coverage twice a day.

Satellites in the JPSS constellation gather global measurements of atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic conditions, including sea and land surface temperatures, vegetation, clouds, rainfall, snow and ice cover, fire locations and smoke plumes, atmospheric temperature, water vapor and ozone. JPSS delivers key observations for the Nation's essential products and services, including forecasting severe weather like hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards days in advance, and assessing environmental hazards such as droughts, forest fires, poor air quality and harmful coastal waters. Further, JPSS will provide continuity of critical, global observations of Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land through 2038.


Suomi NPP satellite The NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) was renamed to Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) in honor of Verner E. Suomi, University of Wisconsin meteorologist, widely recognized as the "Father of Satellite Meteorology."

Launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base a board a Delta-II Mission Launch Vehicle in October 2011, Suomi NPP is the predecessor to the JPSS series spacecraft and is considered the bridge between NOAA's legacy polar satellite fleet, NASA's Earth observing missions and the JPSS constellation. Suomi NPP was constructed with a design life of five years (although it’s still functioning normally) and carries five state-of-the-art instruments: (1) VIIRS, (2) CrIS, (3) ATMS, (4) OMPS, and (5) CERES FM5.


JPSS-1 Satellite NOAA-20, which launched into space on November 18, 2017, is the first spacecraft of NOAA's next generation of polar-orbiting satellites. Capitalizing on the success of Suomi NPP, NOAA-20 features five similar instruments: (1) VIIRS, (2) CrIS, (3) ATMS, (4) OMPS-N, and (5) CERES-FM6. NOAA-20 has a design life of seven years and it will circle the Earth in the same orbit as Suomi NPP, although the two satellites will be separated in time and space by 50 minutes.


JPSS-2 Satellite The JPSS-2 spacecraft will feature several instruments similar to those found on NOAA-20— VIIRS, CrIS, ATMS and OMPS-N—and provide operational continuity of satellite-based observations of atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic conditions for both weather forecasting and long-term climate and environmental data records. It is scheduled to launch in 2021.


JPSS-3, the third spacecraft in the JPSS series, is scheduled to launch in 2026. Benefiting from on the success of previous JPSS spacecraft, JPSS-3 will carry instruments similar to those found on earlier JPSS satellites: VIIRS, CrIS, ATMS and OMPS-N.


Scheduled to launch in 2031, JPSS-4 is the fourth and final spacecraft of the JPSS constellation. Similar to previous JPSS spacecraft, JPSS-4 will host the latest versions of the VIIRS, CrIS, ATMS and OMPS-N instruments.

More information on the JPSS program >>

How Satellites Are Named

NOAA assigns a letter to the satellite before it is launched and a number once it has achieved orbit. GOES-R, the first in NOAA's GOES-R series of satellites, was designated GOES-16 when it reached geostationary orbit. JPSS-1 was designated NOAA-20 when it reached its orbit.

Additional Links

Other sites to visit: Examples of NOAA polar orbiting satellite imagery of significant weather events can be found at the JHU Applied Physics Laboratory web site. A collection of pictures (NOAA in Space) related to NOAA satellites can be found at the NOAA Library. There is a brief history of the GOES satellites from NASA. Florida State University has a history of many of the NOAA satellites and details of when they were launched.


Other United States and Non-U.S. Satellites

Many other environmental satellites are operated by nations, international organizations and commercial enterprises. Below are links to more information to a sampling of these other satellite systems.


NOTICE: When following some of the links listed above, you will leave the NOAASIS web site and the NOAA domain. We provide these links since the information may be of interest to our users. However, NOAA does not necessarily endorse the content of any of these sites.

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