Nasa to ‘revolutionise’ weather forecasting with launch of billion dollar satellite

The satellite will provide better advanced warning of floods and will help with tracking volcanic ash clouds and wildfires

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The Independent Online

A billion-dollar satellite that is promised to revolutionise weather forecasting and in turn help save lives has been successfully launched by Nasa.

The new GOES-R satellite will provide higher resolution images and more frequent updates of weather patterns, improving forecasts and weather warnings and in turn help save lives by giving people more time to evacuate ahead of a hurricane or storm.

Thousands of people travelled to Cape Canaveral in Florida for the launch, including TV meteorologists and space programme workers.

NBC meteorologist Al Roker said: “What’s so exciting is that we’re going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed, higher resolution. In terms of tracking tornadoes, he said that “if we can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes, we’re talking about lives being saved.

“The launch of the GOES-R represents a major step forward in terms of our ability to provide more timely and accurate information that is critical for life-saving weather forecasts and warnings,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate.

It has been built as part of an $11bn (£8.9bn) programme and will help to monitor hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires and lightning storms in America. The satellite itself, which has been launched by Nasa for the National Oceanic and Atmostpheric Administration (NOAA), has been valued at £1bn.

Sandra Cauffman, deputy director of Earth Sciences at Nasa, called the new satellite a “quantum leap” that will “truly revolutionise forecasting”.  

In addition to providing vastly improved forecasting, the satellite’s information will also help pilots avoid bad weather and rocket scientists to know when to call off a launch. It will also be part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system, which can detect distress signals from emergency beacons.

The billion-dollar satellite will reach its designated 22,300-mile-high equatorial orbit in two weeks’ time and, after a series of checks, will become operational within a year.

It is the first to be launched since 2010 and will outstrip its predecessors, sending full images of the western hemisphere every 15 minutes, instead of the current 30-minute time frame, and will send images of the continental United States every five minutes, with images of specific regions updated every five seconds.

Its lightening mapper will hone in on storms that represent the greatest threats, Nasa said in a statement, while the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager will send scientists images of the Earth’s weather, oceans and environment.

“The lightening information is kind of like going from a black and white television to a high-definition television system,” said Todd McNamara, a meteorologist with the US Air Force 45th Weather Squadron at the base. 

Additional reporting by agencies

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