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Atlas Launches NOAA GOES-L

A US$90 million Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A (AC-137) successfully launched the GOES L (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) weather satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, pad 36A, at 12:07 a.m. PDT May 3 (0707 UTC). The US$250 million GOES L will be tested and then placed into storage as a backup. At the completion of delivery, NASA will turn the satellite over to NOAA and the satellite will be renamed GOES 11. It will become operational when either GOES 8 or 10 fails. GOES 8, also known as GOES East, was launched on April 13, 1994 and has exceeded its 5 year design life. (GOES 10 was launched on April 25, 1997.) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted this new GOES satellite in orbit as a backup, prior to the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs June 1 through October 31. The GOES East spacecraft is a critical tool used in tracking hurricanes. The GOES satellites provide real-time weather imagery which most people are familiar with as the images they see with their local TV weather forecasts or in their newspaper weather pages.

NOAA uses two geostationary spacecraft, GOES East, located at 75°W, and GOES West, which is at 135°W, to monitor the weather of the western hemisphere. The combined footprint of the two spacecraft encompasses Earth’s full disk about the meridian approximately in the center of the continental United States. Observational coverage extends east/west between 20°W to 165°E and to about the 60° north/south latitudes.

The 2105 kg (4641 lbm) satellite is the fourth spacecraft to be launched in the GOES-NEXT (I-M) series of geostationary weather satellites for NOAA. The satellite was manufactured by Space Systems / Loral, based on their FS-1300 bus. The spacecraft is a three-axis internally stabilized weather satellite that has the dual capability of providing pictures while performing atmospheric sounding at the same time. The dimensional envelope of the stowed ready for launch spacecraft was 2.5 m x 4.6 m x 2.9 m (97" x 180" x 113”). In its on-orbit operational configuration, the spacecraft is about 26.9 m (88.3 ft) in overall length (solar sail to trim tab), about 5.9 m (19.3 ft) in overall height (telemetry and command antenna to the dual magnetometers), and 4.9 m (16.0 ft) in overall width (dual magnetometer to UHF antenna). The spacecraft has a 5 year design life, with an end-of-life (EOL) power of 1.057 kW.  

The spacecraft has been stored, awaiting launch in a processing facility, since its May 1999 launch date was delayed by the Delta 3 upper stage launch failure. The Atlas 2A's Centaur upper stage uses a Pratt & Whitney's RL-10 engine, similar to the one that failed on the Delta 3. A late 1999 launch opportunity was possible, but NASA chose instead to launch the Terra Earth observing satellite. A January launch was also considered, but a busy Atlas schedule left no slot for GOES L. Satellite controllers did not want to launch the satellite from mid-February through early-April due to eclipsing, which would require the satellite to rely on its onboard batteries, adding unnecessary risk. The question of whether the government or the Atlas contractors will pay for the cost of the delay is being disputed in court.

U.S. weather satellites are operated by NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service unit based in Suitland, Maryland


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May 3, 2000

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