By Mike Augustyniak

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The United States has operated a network of weather satellites for more than 40 years, which provide continuous pictures and data to help forecasters.

The program is called GOES, as in “Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites.” NASA and NOAA will put a new weather satellite into space this weekend.

WCCO Director of Meteorology Mike Augustyniak is at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to cover the launch.

The new satellite is called GOES-R, and it sits on top of an AtlasV rocket Thursday night.

It is more than just a new spacecraft. It is the culmination of a decade of scientific advances that promise to make this satellite a game changer.

“It’s like going from a black-and-white TV to high definition,” said Laura K. Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service.

NOAA’s current fleet of three GOES satellites are all outfitted with 1990s technology.

The launch of GOES-R — and three other similar satellites — will bring the U.S. fleet back up to the state-of-the-art, and extend the life of the GOES program through December 2036.

So, what’s new? More sensors looking at more things.

GOES-R Satelite (credit: NASA)

GOES-R Satelite (credit: NASA)

“It’s three times as many channels, or spectral bands, and so that gives us 15 channels to look at, from visible imagery to infrared imagery,” Furgione said.

To live lightning strike data — over land and oceans — to help protect the airline and shipping industry and the Navy.

Plus, there are sensors pointed at the sun to keep an eye on solar storms that could knock out communications or the power grid.

“Five times faster we will receive this information,” Furgione said. “We’ll be able to see the continental United States every five minutes. And then you can do a superscan on two different areas. For example, Hurricane Matthew, we can do a superscan and receive satellite imagery every 30 seconds.”

That is a capability Japan’s weather satellite has had for two years now. It is huge help in forecasting Midwestern tornadoes and floods.

“But when nine out of 10 fatalities are associated with flooding, it’s really important that we have an understanding of where the greatest amount of rainfall is,” Furgione said.

So, what does it all cost? Manufacturing, launch and 30 years of maintenance costs for all four satellites adds up to $10.8 billion — or about $361 million a year.

That’s a lot of money, but for perspective, $12-billion weather disasters have hit the U.S. in 2016 just through August.

“With 98 percent of all presidentially-declared disasters, weather-related, this satellite really has the potential to save so much,” Furgione said.

The GOES-R launch is scheduled for Saturday at 4:42 p.m. Central Time.

Once it gets to orbit, there will be a period where all of the instruments are tested and calibrated, with the goal to have data flowing to the public within a year.

Mike Augustyniak