These Are Really Special Spare Parts


It started just over 45 years ago. A revolutionary advancement in weather forecasting was placed on top of a Delta rocket and launched into orbit. The GOES-A weather satellite was the first “eye in the sky” that NOAA could use to help not only forecast the weather, but also to get a better look at the hurricanes that develop over the ocean. GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

GOES-1 Satellite | Image by

GOES-A was launched on October 16, 1975 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Once it achieved orbit it was designated as GOES-1 and it began sending pictures back to Earth 9 days later. According to The National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) “Using a Visible/Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer (VISSR), the satellite provided day and night observations of cloud and surface temperatures, cloud heights and wind fields. Although GOES-1 was spin-stabilized, only viewing earth 10 percent of the time and providing data in only two dimensions, it gave forecasters their first near-real time look at atmospheric conditions from a fixed location. GOES-1 remained active throughout the launches of GOES-2-6, until finally being decommissioned on March 7, 1985.”

GOES-15 Satellite | Artist’s Rendition by NOAA

As the satellites grew older and not as efficient they were replaced. A total of 15 GOES satellites had been utilized, but a 16th was ordered and being assembled. The problem, if you can call it that, was that GOES-13-14-15 were still functioning at peak performance so number 16 designated at GOES-Q was cancelled in 2002. Two of it’s major components were already manufactured.

Models of GOES-Q Imager -left & Sounder -right | Photo by Andre Hammond of OSPO and NSFO

According to NESDIS two of the satellite’s major components, the flight imager and the sounder, were completed and will be going for a ride, but but not into space. Quoting “The imager was designed to capture imagery of the planet from above, and the sounder was designed to to collect information about the temperature, pressure, water vapor, and critical trace gasses throughout the atmosphere.” The two components were kept on hand to serve as a backup should they be needed to replace one that failed on one of the existing satellites.

History of Goes Satellites | Image by NASA

NASA launched GOES-R in 2016. It was the first in a new and more advanced group of satellites called the GOES-R Series. Since the new satellites were a serious step up in technology the GOES-Q imager and sounder were no longer needed. Quoting NESDIS again “Although these two instruments from GOES-Q never found a home in space, they did find a home where they will still be treasured by the world. This year they were retired to the National Collection of the Smithsonian Institute, where they will be incorporated into two modernized exhibits that are being constructed at the Air and Space Museum, which is currently undergoing a major seven-year renovation.”

The imager will go into a gallery called “Living in the Space age” that’s planned to open in 2025 and the sounder will be part of a new exhibit on climate change that’s planned to open in 2023.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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