Falcon Heavy Successfully Launches GOES-U Weather Satellite

By Jurassic JennJun 27, 2024 10:05 AMScience
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Falcon Heavy Successfully Launches GOES-U Weather Satellite
Falcon Heavy Successfully Launches GOES-U Weather Satellite. Source: www.space.com

On June 25, a momentous event took place as a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket successfully lifted off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A. This launch carried the final installment of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) R series, known as the GOES-U weather satellite. The remarkable feat involved several unprecedented achievements. This was reported by SSPDaily.

Despite initial weather forecasts that predicted only a 30% chance of suitable weather conditions, launch directors found a window of opportunity within a two-hour timeframe. The Falcon Heavy took flight at 5:26 p.m. Eastern, demonstrating the resilience and flexibility of the team.

The primary cargo of this mission, the GOES-U weather satellite, is anticipated to separate from the Falcon Heavy's second stage approximately four and a half hours after liftoff. To ensure its successful placement into a geostationary transfer orbit, several burns will be executed by the stage followed by an intricately orchestrated sequence.

Developed by Lockheed Martin for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), GOES-U is the fourth and final satellite in its series. Once positioned in geostationary orbit, it will be renamed GOES-19 and primarily serve as the operational GOES-East satellite positioned at 75 degrees east in GEO. This handover will take place as it supersedes its predecessor, GOES-16.

GOES-U carries an array of earth and space science instruments akin to its predecessors' capabilities. Notably, it is equipped with the Compact Coronagraph (CCOR) instrument, which will diligently monitor the solar corona for flares and coronal mass ejections that affect space weather. CCOR will assume duties previously delegated to the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft, which is nearly three decades old.

Over the years, meteorologists have attested to the significant enhancement in weather prediction facilitated by the GOES-R series. The latest series has proven instrumental in enabling improved forecasts, warnings, and services, thereby fostering measures to safeguard lives and protect properties according to Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service.

The inclusion of a lightning mapper stands as one of the notable advancements in the GOES-R series. Meteorologists elucidate that this innovation has granted them a deeper understanding of storm severity, thereby allowing for more accurate warnings. Furthermore, forecasters affirm the aspect of increased confidence in their forecasts.

The work doesn't halt here for NOAA, as the agency is actively engaged in developing the next generation of geostationary weather satellites, the GeoXO, targeted to commence launches in 2032. In collaboration with NOAA, NASA has assigned Lockheed Martin the responsibility of constructing the spacecraft, while BAE Systems (formerly Ball Aerospace) will be in charge of fabricating sounder and ocean color instruments.

Within this remarkable feat of the GOES-U launch, a first-time collaboration unfolded between NOAA and SpaceX. Prior to this mission, the three GOES-R satellites were launched using Atlas 5 rockets from United Launch Alliance. However, in September 2021, NASA awarded SpaceX a $152.5 million contract for launching GOES-U with the Falcon Heavy, as ULA faced constraints due to the unavailability of their Atlas rockets.

The Falcon Heavy provides a distinct advantage in terms of greater performance capacity. The pivotal aspect of additional "delta V," referring to the change in velocity required for the spacecraft to attain its final geostationary orbit, plays a crucial role. NASA's Julianna Scheiman highlights the delta V efficiency, stating that Falcon Heavy enables propellant savings as it provides a transfer orbit with significantly lower energy requirements.

This propellant efficiency contributes to an extended operational lifespan for GOES-U. While the spacecraft is designed for a 15-year tenure, NOAA's Pam Sullivan explains that the augmented capabilities fostered by the Falcon Heavy launch allow an expectation of fuel sustainability for 20 or more years.

This successful mission marks the tenth launch for the Falcon Heavy and the second one contracted by NASA, following the Psyche asteroid mission launched in October 2023. In the near future, another Falcon Heavy will take flight with the Europa Clipper mission for NASA in October of this year. The advancements achieved through partnerships and technological advancements continuously pave the way for groundbreaking discoveries and meteorological advancements.

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