GOES-T weather satellite with UW-Madison ties set to launch Tuesday

MADISON, Wis. — An important new weather satellite will head to space Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and meteorologists in Madison will be watching the launch very closely.

Meteorologists call the satellites their eyes in the sky, and the GOES-T satellite will provide continuous surveillance of the Pacific Ocean and the western half of the country from 22,300 miles up in space.

The journey to orbit began, in part, in Madison.

“Verner Soumi, a professor here at the UW was watching a football game, in fact, he was watching a Green Bay Packers football game, watched the instant replay, and thought what if we could actually make a replay of the weather?” said Tristan L’Ecuyer, a professor with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and the director of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.

From that idea more than half a century ago when space flight was in its infancy and with the help of scientists and engineers at UW, the first weather satellites were developed. Each new satellite has added sensors to monitor the atmosphere, much of which was imagined and developed long before the upcoming launch.

“These satellites typically have a lifetime of about ten years, which means you need to be thinking about the next one before you launch the current one, and guess if I can extrapolate a little bit off of that, so researchers in this building now and at the University of Wisconsin are already working on the concepts for the satellites that will be launched in the 2030s,” L’Ecuyer said.

The new satellite will be critical in helping forecast the weather across the country.

“Importantly, the GOES-West satellite covers the Pacific Ocean, and since a lot of our weather comes from the west, we actually get a chance to track weather systems coming off the Pacific Ocean onshore into the U.S.,” L’Ecuyer explained.

Combined with the GOES-East satellite, it is possible to take pictures of cloud development as often as every 30 seconds, providing critical weather data over hurricanes at sea, severe thunderstorms that could spawn tornadoes or even bands of heavy snow within winter storms.

It will do more than just monitor clouds: it will help measure lightning from space and can also help monitor wildfires in remote areas like uninhabited forests.

“I think now with the satellite data we’ve demonstrated that we can actually warn people of fires long before spotters can even see smoke from the fires on the ground,” L’Ecuyer said.

The launch is set for 3:38 p.m. Tuesday.