From The Editor | June 25, 2024

A Look At GeoXO, NOAA's Next Weather Satellite

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By John Oncea, Editor

GettyImages-1176113294 satellite

Scheduled for launch in the early 2030s, GeoXO is intended as an upgrade to NOAA’s current GOES-R of weather satellites, with an anticipated lifetime through 2055.

My grandfather, Warren, and his brothers, Allison, Leon, and Eddie were boat builders. They worked part-time, off and on, for Paasch Marine Services in my hometown of Erie, PA.

With my grandfather’s help, Paasch built three aluminum hull boats for American Boat Line (ABL) – American Venus, American Neptune, and American Adonis II – that were used for tours of the Thousand Islands archipelago on the St. Lawrence River running between Clayton, NY and Gananoque, Ontario.

It appears, as of 2018, all three boats are still in use today though they all go by different names and no longer call the St. Lawrence River home:

  • American Neptune, now the Island Adventure, operates in the Boston area
  • American Venus, now Miss Christin, is in Alexandria, VA
  • American Adonis II, now WinStar Cruise, is in Halifax, Nova Scotia

It’s comforting to know that the boats my grandfather and granduncles helped build 50 years ago are still sea-worthy, though American Adoni II did spring a leak and nearly sank in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in 1994.

The brothers, inspired by ABL’s use of aluminum, built a sailboat of their own – the Four Brothers – out of the same material in Allison’s backyard. After trucking her across town, they launched at Paasch Marine and my family would spend most every summer Sunday for years after on her, enjoying all that Erie has to offer.

Now, being a typical preteen, I would become bored just sailing around. I’d occupy my time eating donuts, reading the Sunday comics, complaining, and listening to NOAA Weather Radio, broadcasting on station KEC-58 on an assigned frequency of 162.40 megahertz.

The Evolution Of Weather Radio Since 1980ish

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service (NWS) office, according to NOAA. NWR broadcasts official NWS warnings, watches, forecasts, and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was on board Four Brothers, NWR had expanded significantly from its inception in the 1960s with over 300 stations operating. The network broadcasted warnings, watches, forecasts, current weather observations, and other hazard information to coastal regions, inland areas, and major cities.

The system was still using analog technology with nearly all of the broadcasts done by staff members at local NWS offices. Messages were manually recorded, typically on tape cartridges, and then placed in the broadcast cycle.

Since then, the number of stations has grown from around 300 to over 1,000 today and provides coverage to 95% of the U.S. population.

In 1985, the NWS began experimenting with special digital codes at the beginning and end of life-threatening messages. This evolved into the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) system, adopted nationally in 1988 and fully implemented by 1996. SAME allows for more targeted alerts, activating only receivers programmed for specific emergency conditions in specific areas. In 1998, the NWS replaced its message recording and playback equipment with the Console Replacement System (CRS), integrating SAME coding and improving efficiency.

The network expanded beyond weather to become an all-hazards radio network, broadcasting warnings for various natural and technological hazards. After the events of September 11, NWR began alerting listeners to non-weather emergencies like terrorist attacks when requested by officials.

NOAA And Its Use Of Satellites

NOAA has used satellite systems extensively over the years with the first weather satellite, TIROS-1, launched on April 1, 1960, according to National Academies. Six years later, NOAA began making daily operational use of satellite data.

Over time, improvements in sensing instruments, data processing, and dissemination expanded the utility and importance of satellites in NWS operations. Satellite data became crucial for global forecast models, near-real-time tracking of hurricanes and severe storms, mapping snow cover, and determining atmospheric temperature and water vapor content.

Today, NOAA operates two main types of satellites: Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) for national, regional, short-range warning and now-casting and Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites (POES) for global, long-term forecasting and environmental monitoring.

The first GOES satellite was launched on October 16, 1975, was spin-stabilized, and viewed the Earth only about 10% of the time. In the 1980s, vertical profiling capabilities were added to obtain temperature and moisture data throughout the atmosphere.

GOES-I, launched in 1994, brought significant improvements in resolution, data quantity, and continuity through three-axis stabilization and separate optics for imaging and sounding. Subsequent GOES satellites (N, O, and P) further improved imager and sounder resolution, introduced better image navigation systems, and enhanced power capabilities for continuous imaging.

The GOES-R Series, launched in 2016, represents the Western Hemisphere’s most advanced weather-monitoring satellite system and NOAA satellite data is now used for various purposes beyond weather forecasting, including developing specialized forecasts for agriculture, construction, and transportation; measuring sea-surface temperatures for marine activities and climate monitoring; and detecting and monitoring forest fires and global drought conditions.

Through these advancements, NOAA’s use of satellite systems has evolved from basic weather monitoring to a comprehensive environmental observation network, providing crucial data for weather forecasting, climate monitoring, and various other scientific and practical applications.

NOAA’s Next-Gen Satellite

NOAA's Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO) satellite system represents a significant leap forward in Earth observation technology, set to revolutionize weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, and climate research in the coming decades.

GeoXO is the next-generation geostationary satellite constellation, scheduled to launch in the early 2030s and operate through the mid-2050s. This advanced system will build upon and expand the capabilities of the current GOES-R series, providing critical observations of weather patterns, marine ecosystems, air quality, and climate change.

According to U.S. Radio Guy, The GeoXO constellation will consist of three operational satellites positioned over the Western Hemisphere: GEO-West at 137°W, GEO-East at 75°W, and a central spacecraft near 105°W longitude. Each satellite will host a suite of sophisticated instruments designed to capture a wide range of environmental data:

  1. Geostationary Extended Imager (GXI): An improved version of the current Advanced Baseline Imager, providing higher resolution imagery for enhanced weather forecasting.
  2. Lightning Mapper (LMX): An upgraded lightning detection system for monitoring severe weather.
  3. Ocean Color Instrument (OCX): A new addition that will scan coastal areas and major lakes, detecting runoff, pollution, and oil spills while measuring water clarity.
  4. Atmospheric Composition Instrument (ACX): This instrument will measure pollutants across the United States on an hourly basis.
  5. Hyperspectral Infrared Sounder (GXS): A new tool that will examine temperature, humidity, and turbulence in fine detail, helping to predict weather trends before they begin.

The GeoXO program is a collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA, with NASA managing the development and launch of the satellites, while NOAA will operate them and process the data.

One of the key advancements of the GeoXO system is its ability to provide more frequent and detailed observations. For instance, the OCX instrument will offer the first geostationary observations of coastal ecosystems, supporting resilient coastal communities. The hyperspectral sounder will provide near real-time mapping of atmospheric conditions, while the enhanced lightning observations will improve severe convection monitoring.

The GeoXO satellites will be based on Lockheed Martin’s modernized LM2100 satellite bus, which incorporates SmartSat technology. This feature allows for new software updates and capabilities to be added over time, ensuring the system can adapt to changing environmental data needs throughout its operational lifespan.

Data delivery from GeoXO, writes the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service,  also will see significant improvements compared to the current GOES-R model. The system will make extensive use of cloud services, with data products available directly from the NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) Common Cloud Framework. This approach will allow for faster and easier dissemination of data to partners and users.

Future Uses Of GeoXO

“The OCX instrument will use hyperspectral techniques to make high-spatial resolution observations of North America’s Great Lakes region, as well as large areas of ocean extending to around 200 miles off American coasts,” notes Optics.

“By imaging ocean and lake environments across a spectrum of ultraviolet to near-infrared light, the instrument will provide the most comprehensive data ever collected on the region's water quality, ocean biology and chemistry, ecosystem changes, and more,” says BAE Systems. “OCX also will provide more frequent observations than previous instruments, collecting complete surveys every two hours to reduce issues like cloud cover and allow scientists to monitor quickly changing conditions.”

According to Alberto Conti, the Vice President and General Manager of Civil Space at the firm, OCX will offer NOAA and other end users new insights into aquatic ecosystem dynamics. This will enable better monitoring of endangered species, tracking of oil spills and harmful algal blooms, and the protection of reef systems and fisheries. “The GeoXO instruments will provide decision makers with invaluable data for informed policy formulation and proactive measures to address pressing global challenges,” he said.

ACX will take hourly daytime measurements to enhance air quality forecasts and analyze the extent and movement of pollutants such as aerosol particles, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, glyoxal, sulfur dioxide, and ozone. “Not only will this instrument provide cutting-edge measurements of air quality, but it also will improve weather forecasts, help pilots avoid dangerous situations, warn hospitals of imminent air quality issues, and protect the lasting health and economic stability of our communities,” said Conti at the time.

The GXS instrument will be used to measure atmospheric moisture, winds, and temperature. This will help improve weather prediction models and short-term severe weather forecasting, among other applications. NOAA states that GXS will provide real-time data on the troposphere, which is the lowest level of the atmosphere where weather occurs, at a much higher frequency than is currently possible. “It will be used for the estimation of temperature and humidity in the atmosphere by altitude, creating a profile of the atmosphere,” NOAA explained.

As our planet faces increasing environmental challenges, the GeoXO satellite system will play a crucial role in providing the data needed to understand and address these issues. From improving weather forecasts to monitoring air quality and studying climate change, GeoXO represents a significant investment in our ability to observe and protect our changing Earth.