US plans satellite rockets on Tuesday

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL —
The newest US weather satellite lifted off on Tuesday to improve predictions of wildfires and floods in the western half of the country.

It’s a replacement for a satellite launched exactly four years ago that ended up with a cooling line blockage that hampered its main camera.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the new model is being redesigned to avoid the problem. It will be designated GOES-18 after reaching an equatorial orbit at 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers). The first images should arrive next year, after months of testing.

It is the third in a nearly $11.7 billion series of four GOES weather satellites that are among the most advanced ever built; the cost includes decades of operation. The first soared in 2016 to track Atlantic hurricanes and other East Coast weather, while the second lifted off on March 1, 2018. The fourth is expected to launch in 2024.

The first two satellites in the series captured video of the rocket hovering over the Atlantic from Cape Canaveral.

NASA-supported satellites “provide the only continuous coverage of hazardous weather and environmental conditions in the Western Hemisphere,” said NOAA program director Pam Sullivan.

“Having these multiple ways of looking at the earth gives us a lot more and a lot better information for these critical predictions to save lives, protect property,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said after the lift-off.

GOES-17 – which loses up to 10% of its data due to overheating camera sensors – will be shelved as a spare in orbit, once the newly launched craft is ready to take its place next year over the Pacific. Each is the size of a small school bus, weighing over 6,000 pounds (2,700 kilograms).

In addition to observing conditions here on earth, satellites also monitor solar flares and the resulting space weather.

Despite its flaw, GOES-17 returned stunning images of Tonga’s volcanic eruption in January. The new satellite should provide even better images of such events, according to NOAA scientists.

Tuesday’s liftoff aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket coincided with the opening of the so-called weather source. The three-month season begins March 1, as defined by meteorologists and climatologists for record keeping. This year’s vernal equinox falls on March 20.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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