Blast off accelerates studies in atmospheric science

16 Apr 2018

A University of Queensland PhD student was a special guest at a recent weather satellite launch and personalised tour of  the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida.

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences student in the Atmospheric Observations Research Group Andrew Schwartz observed the launch of a new generation of satellites that can detect for the first time, phenomena such as snow, smoke and ash.  

“I was honoured to be invited for this incredible opportunity to take an intimate look at the Center and the satellite, and to also meet the scientists and engineers involved across the project,​” he said.

In February, NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched GOES-S, the second of four weather satellites in the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites series with increased monitoring capabilities.

The series includes a new lightning mapper that can detect lightning strikes at all depths of the atmosphere and identify any resulting spot fires ignited.

“This allows emergency managers to extinguish these fires before they become significant forest or bush fires,” he said.

While launches rarely occur within their planned two-hour window due to potential mechanical and weather problems, this launch went exactly to plan and evoked an unexpected emotional response from Mr Schwartz.

“It was truly awe-inspiring as the rocket and its payload turned into a small dot in the sky, then disappeared from the atmosphere altogether.”

Mr Schwartz said GOES-S reached geostationary orbit on 17 March and was renamed GOES-17 (aka GOES West). It will monitor the western United States and most of the Pacific Ocean until 2036.

“The satellite’s instruments will continue to cool and degas and data for public use should be available in August-September.”

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