March 1st atop an Atlas V 541 at 4:38 PM Est from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station

Today’s mission wasn’t one of human exploration, of the expansion of an internet constellation, but rather one of Earth’s citizens protection. A weather monitoring satellite for NOAA has been launched into orbit where it will help meteorologists observe and predict local weather events that could possible affect public safety. This includes Thunderstorms, tornadoes, fog, hurricanes, flash floods and other severe weather events. This launch was of NOAA’s third satellite in the GOES-R series. GOES-T will be placed into a geosynchronous transfer orbit after separated from the launch vehicle and then move to a higher geostationary orbit and renamed GOES-18, replacing the GOES-17 satellite in the GOES-West position. It will keep an eye on the U.S. West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific Ocean. In tandem with GOES-16 these satellites will watch over more than half of our entire Planet.

NOAA or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the American scientific and regulatory agency that resides with the United States Department of Commerce to forecast weather, monitor oceanic and atmospheric conditions, chart the seas, conduct deep sea exploration, and manage fishing, and the protection of marine mammals and endangered species in the U.S. exclusive economic zone. The administration is to be a source of accurate and objective scientific information in the four particular areas of national and global importance of ecosystems, climate, weather, water, and commerce and transportation.

As with most newer satellites, they come with upgrades from their past versions, and modifications of their instrumentation. GOES-T will specifically carry an upgraded magnetometer that is expected to provide improved performance for measuring magnetic field variations. There will also be the Advanced Baseline Imager or ABI onboard this satellite. ABI is used for a wide range of applications which are related to sever weather. This upgrade makes it possible to scan Earth five times faster, with four times the resolution, and three times the number of channels than previous GOES satellites.

@zshaul (NHS)

GOES-R satellites also carry the Geostationary Lightning Mapper, or GLM. A firs of its kind flown in this orbit. When developing severe storms often exhibit a significant increase in lightning activity, the GLM data can help forecasters to focus on initial thunderstorm development and intensifying severe storms before they produce damaging winds, hail, or tornadoes. The GOES-R series also hold a set of instruments that detect and monitor approaching space weather hazards. Solar Ultraviolet Imager or SUVI and Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors or EXIS currently provide imaging of the sun and detection of solar flares. A Space Environment In-Situ Suite or SEISS and Magnetometer monitor energetic particles and the magnetic field differences that are associated with space weather. Together these instruments help to forecast early warnings of disruptions to power utilities and communication & navigation systems along with radiation damage to orbiting satellites.

Infographic by Rykllan (NHS)

Flying today’s mission was none other than the Atlas V 541, nicknamed “the Beast”. This rocket will launch with a five meter Payload Fairing. This seventeen foot diameter short fairing is a sandwich composite made with a vented aluminum-honeycomb core and graphite-epoxy face sheets, and will enclose the spacecraft during launch. Four Solid Rocket Boosters or SRBs will be used alongside the single booster using the RD-180 engine. Those SRBs are used for added thrust as each of them will add 371,550lbs to help get the spacecraft into the desired orbit, while the RD-180 engine is capable of 860,200lbs of thrust at lift off. The first stage booster itself is 3.8 meters in diameter and 32.5 meters in length, bringing to total length of the launch vehicle to 196 feet with the fairings attached. It is made of

@kylemontgomeryphoto (NHS)

Once the first stage and SRBs have burned out they will be jettisoned from the payload and second stage as the Centaur seconds stage will use its 22,900lbs of thrust to carry the payload to that desired transfer orbit before the spacecraft itself will continue on to the geostationary orbit. This Centaur second stage is 3 meters long and 12.6 meters in length and is powered by an RL10C-1 engine fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Below is a table provided by ULA of the that shows the events of the launch starting at lift off.

Graphic from: ULA (United Launch Alliance)

ULA utilizes Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station as their base of operations for Atlas V rockets. Once various parts of the launch vehicle arrive from their production facilities they are integrated atop a MLP (Mobile Launch Platform) inside the company’s VIF (Vertical Integration Facility) which is adjacent to the launch pad. Once assembled and ready the rocket is railed the eighteen-hundred feet North for the final countdown, fueling, and lift off of each mission. SLC-41 was initially used by the U.S. Air Force in the 60’s for the Titan rocket program and was refurbished in the late 1990s to support the Atlas V.

A GOES series satellite is launched every few years with the next planned for GOES-U in April of 2024.