An exciting milestone for space weather analysis occurred this past weekend. The most powerful space weather instrument known to man launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 5:42 p.m. EST. The instrument package was constructed and designed by University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric Space and Physics (LASP) for NOAA’s next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R Series (GOES-R). Its orbit will drift over 22,000 miles from Earth.

As one of four packages to fly on four NOAA weather satellites, this powerful instrument is known as Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS). Additional instrument packages, GOES-S, -T and -U, will launch within the next eight years. EXIS was designed to gauge energy production from the sun that may affect the operation of a satellite, as well as GPS navigation, telecommunications and power grids back home on Earth.

Not only can space weather alter Earth’s climate, but it also has the ability to adjust magnetic and radio frequency, which can make technology on Earth go awry, from minor day-to-day disturbances to more major events. This satellite will help scientists better understand and predict the effects space weather has on our planet.

Understanding Planetary and Space Weather More Accurately

LASP’s Senior Research Scientist Frank Eparvier, the primary investigator, ensured the launch was ready by its deadline. These sensitive instruments will assist scientists with understanding and analyzing solar events more closely and reducing the effects of space weather on Earth.

Six powerful instruments on the GOES-R satellite will access meteorological, space and solar weather. The Advanced Baseline Imager on the satellite will take detailed photos covering all of the Western Hemisphere in real time, taking only five minutes to scan from the North Pole to the South Pole. Water vapor, sea and land temperature, and rainfall rates will be measured.

The satellite’s lightening mapper is the first of its kind in space, able to map the frequency, location and scale of strikes to increase the notification and preparation time ahead of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. An ultraviolet imager will monitor solar activity 24 hours a day, complete with an X-ray sensor to access the intensity of solar flares. It’s possible for larger solar flares to have the force of millions of atomic bombs exploding at once.

Built to Last: A Small Package With Big Impact

GOES-R has 3 primary instruments onboard.  Its made up of an earth-pointing, sun-pointing and in-situ sections, that allow it to track the earth and sun with precision, as well as provide measurements while in geosynchronous orbit.

In order to complete its mission, engineers had to design a satellite that is able to withstand extreme temperatures in space. They also needed to protect the computers onboard from interference. Additional shielding added more weight than usual, yet will protect the equipment from high-energy particle penetration. The GOES-R instrument package is about the size of a large microwave oven, weighing in at 66 pounds.

GOES-R is a small package, built to last, with a major impact on how scientists will predict the effects of solar and space weather on Earth. These sophisticated instruments will enable scientists to trace these effects in real time to be better prepared for phenomena that could affect humanity’s day-to-day communication and prevent the larger consequences of a space or solar event.

RELATED ARTICLE:   Do you have what it takes to go to space? Retired astronauts weigh in on the gruelling recruitment process