US launches most advanced weather satellite ever built 

The most advanced weather satellite ever built rocketed into space on Saturday night, part of an $11bn effort to revolutionise forecasting and save lives.

This new GOES-R spacecraft will track US weather as never before: hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires, lightning storms, even solar flares.

About 50 meteorologists from across the US converged on the launch site including with 8,000 space program workers.

“What’s so exciting is that we’re going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed, higher resolution,” said Al Roker from NBC.

“If we can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes [with tornadoes], we’re talking about lives being saved,” Roker said.

Stephen Volz from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s director of satellites said the satellite was “really a quantum leap above any satellite NOAA has ever flown.”

“For the American public, that will mean faster, more accurate weather forecasts and warnings,” Volz said earlier in the week. “That also will mean more lives saved and better environmental intelligence” for government officials responsible for hurricane and other evacuations.

Airline passengers also stand to benefit, as do rocket-launch teams. Improved forecasting will help pilots avoid bad weather and help rocket scientists know when to call off a launch.

The first in a series of four high-tech satellites, it hitched a ride on an unmanned Atlas V rocket. The satellite valued by NOAA at $1bn will join three ageing spacecraft with 40-year-old technology. After months of testing, this newest satellite will take over for one of the older ones. The second satellite in the series will follow in 2018.

The satellite’s six science instruments will offer three times as many channels as the existing system, four times the resolution and five times the scan speed, said NOAA program director Greg Mandt. A similar imager is also flying on a Japanese weather satellite.

Typically, it will churn out full images of the western hemisphere every 15 minutes and the continental United States every five minutes. Specific storm regions will be updated every 30 seconds.

Forecasters will get pictures “like they’ve never seen before,” Mandt promised.

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