Technical delays could not stop the launch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) next-generation weather satellite, the GOES-R. Weather nerds everywhere were on the edge of their seats as controllers worked to resolve an issue with the rocket while the launch window ticked away. An Atlas V rocket finally propelled the satellite into space at the close of the window, lifting off at 6:42 p.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NOAA says the satellite will be a real game-changer when it comes to weather, as it will scan the globe five time faster than current satellites can. By providing four times the spatial resolution, the spacecraft will be able to beam back real-time images of storms as they develop.

This kind of capability will provide NOAA scientists with unprecedented data, which will improve forecasts of tornadoes, hurricanes, and even wildfires. GOES-R is also equipped with an onboard lightning mapper, designed to pinpoint more severe storms. Armed with the exceptional data from GOES-R, storm trackers will be able to more precisely predict seasonal weather patterns while increasing warning times before a storm strikes.

GOES-R will be able to scan the globe five times faster than current satellites.
GOES-R will be able to scan the globe five times faster than current satellites. 

“The launch of 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,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate explained in a news release. “It also continues a decades-long partnership between NASA and NOAA to successfully build and launch geostationary environmental satellites.”

But that’s not all. GOES-R is also designed to monitor space weather. In addition to studying weather here on Earth, the satellite will also be on the lookout for solar flares. Solar activity, such as flares are usually accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CMEs) — which is a burst of charged particles ejected from the sun. When a CME clashes with the Earth’s magnetic field, it can produce a dazzling light show (called an aurora), but it can also wreak havoc on communication systems and power grids here on Earth. GOES-R will be able to tip off scientists if a major solar storm will affect the Earth.

“The next generation of weather satellites is finally here,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. “GOES-R will strengthen NOAA’s ability to issue life-saving forecasts and warnings and make the United States an even stronger, more resilient weather-ready nation.”

Currently, GOES-R is on its way to a geostationary parking spot. From its orbital perch — roughly 22,000 miles above the equator — the satellite will start beaming back data in time for next year’s hurricane season.

Photos via Lockheed Martin, NASA