By Mike Augustyniak

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Just over six months ago, a new generation of weather satellite was put into orbit.

Called GOES-R at launch, and now named GOES-16, it has cutting-edge sensors that will eventually replace the 1970s technology we currently use.

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Last Friday, the keys to the satellite were passed from the NASA team that launched it to the NOAA team that will use it day-to-day.

Even so, GOES-16 still has some final exams to pass before it goes live.

“When you have a brand new satellite series, you’ve really gotta check out all that data very carefully and insure that it’s of the quality and accuracy that we want,” said Mike Stringer, the acting satellite program director for NOAA.

Stringer knows that, in the world of satellite meteorology, there are no second chances.

The instruments on GOES-16 are flying 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, and they are replacing the 1970s technology onboard the current fleet of satellites.

Since the new technology had yet to be tested in space, officials need to make sure the data from above matched what instruments on the ground reported. Blurred vision from space could lead forecasters astray.

So far, the data has been clear.

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“It’s like watching what was happening to watching what is happening,” Stringer said. “So they can see those storms…see as the storm starts to really develop and really get energized and they can get out those alerts and warnings much quicker.”

The Geostationary Lightning Mapper, or GLM, gives scientists the ability to see lightning happen in real time anywhere over the Northern Hemisphere, including over oceans where flights and ships have no place to hide.

“We get a picture of what’s going on in the storm and how much it’s intensifying,” Stringer said.

GOES-16 will also keep an eye on space weather.

“Part of the electrical grid was knocked out by a major solar storm, so that’s a possibility,” Stringer said. “The airlines, they’re worried about their ATC systems.”

On average, there are 10 separate $1 billion weather events each year.

There are three more satellites in this same series that will be launched in coming years.

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The next one will go into orbit in spring of 2018, and be live beginning next fall.

Mike Augustyniak