NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Closes as Deadly Hurricane Irma Targets Direct Hit on Florida Forcing Millions to Evacuate

Storm clouds from looming Cat 4 Hurricane Irma obscure the view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Complex 39A as seen from Titusville, FL forcing NASA to close the Kennedy Space Center until the storm passes. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

TITUSVILLE/CAPE CANAVERAL, FL– NASA and Air Force officials have ordered the closure of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as deadly Cat 4 Hurricane Irma relentlessly targets a direct hit on Florida and forces millions of residents and tourists to evacuate catastrophic consequences coming tonight, Saturday, Sept. 9 and throughout the weekend.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex also announced its closure.

The Florida Space Coast base and Visitor Complex closings were ordered just hours after SpaceX successfully launched the secretive X-37B military spaceplane to orbit for the U.S. Air Force on a Falcon 9 rocket from historic pad 39A on the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, Sept. 7.

“NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is closing Friday, Sept. 8 through at least Monday, Sept. 11, due to the approach of Hurricane Irma, KSC officials said.

“Irma could potentially bring heavy rain and strong winds to the spaceport. Essential personnel will make final preparations to secure center facilities and infrastructure.”

“I have declared Hurricane Condition II (HURCON II) as of 9:00 p.m. today [9/9],” declared Brig Gen. Wayne R. Monteith, Commander, 45th Space Wing.

“As we enter HURCON II, we continue to monitor Hurricane Irma’s progress. HURCON II indicates surface winds in excess of 58 mph could arrive in the area of the base within 24 hours.”

“This is a deadly major storm,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott at an update briefing today. “Our state has never seen anything like it.”

“We are under a state of emergency!”

18 million people are currently under Hurricane warnings throughout Florida and the dire warnings from the Governor have been nothing short of catastrophic.

Here’s the latest Hurricane Irma storm track from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) updated to Saturday evening, Sept 9.

Hurricane Irma Cone forecast on Sept. 9, 2017 from the National Hurricane Center. Credit: NHC

It is being closely tracked in incredibly high resolution by the new NASA/NOAA GOES-16 (GOES-R) satellite launched late last year on a ULA Atlas V in Nov 2016.

Only a ride out team of roughly 130 or so KSC personnel based at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) inside the Launch Control Center will remain on site to monitor spaceport facilities over the weekend and beyond.

“We’re closed until further notice except for Ride-Out Team. Stay safe!” said KSC officials.

“Ride-Out Team to remain in place until #Irma passes.”

At the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) located inside the Launch Control Center at the Kennedy Space Center; Brady Helms, Wayne Kee, and John Cosat discuss #Irma on Sept. 9, 2017. Credit: NASA KSC

Both KSC and the Cape’s Air Force Base will remain closed until Irma passes and until further notice and the facilities are deemed safe.

“After the storm has left the area, Kennedy’s Damage Assessment and Recovery Team will evaluate all center facilities and infrastructure for damage. The spaceport will reopen after officials determine it is safe for employees to return.”

USAF X-37B military mini-shuttle lifts off at 10 a.m. EDT Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

State officials also ordered the mandatory evacuation of the Cape’s surrounding barrier islands including Merritt Island which is home to the space center and Cocoa Beach, as of Friday at 3 p.m. EDT.

This is the second year in a row that a deadly looming hurricane has forced the closure of KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

When Hurricane Matthew struck last October 2016 it left over $100 million in damages to NASA and AF installations and ironically caused the postponed of the advanced GOES-16 (GOES-R) weather satellite now tracking Irma with unprecedented clarity and timing.

NASA’s iconic VAB and the Launch Control Center (right, front) are home to the ‘ride out’ crew remaining on site at the Kennedy Space Center during Hurricane Irma to monitor facilities as the storm passes by on Sept. 10 – in this view taken Sept. 8, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Strong wind gusts and heavy downpours have already drenched Titusville and other local Space Coast cities periodically today, Sat., Sept 9.

NASA’s iconic VAB was barely visible from my perch along Titusville river front, ghostlike in appearance when it peeked only rarely through the clouds.

Storm clouds from looming Cat 4 Hurricane Irma obscure the view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Complex 39A as seen from Titusville, FL forcing NASA to close the Kennedy Space Center until the storm passes. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As I write this late Saturday, Sept. 9, Irma is just hours and less than 100 miles away from striking the Florida Keys with a predicted impact of an unsurvivable storm surge.

The eye is currently off the north coast of Cuba and moving in a west northwesterly WNW direction at 7 MPH.

Hurricane Irma as seen from the International Space Station. Credit: Randy Bresnik/NASA

Monster storm Irma is the size of Texas. The outer bands are already lashing the Florida Keys.

Landfall is currently projected to be on the west coast of Florida, perhaps around the Tampa area and causing catastrophic storm surges, flooding and destruction of property and homes.

“Millions of Floridians will see major impacts with DEADLY DEADLY DEADLY storm surge and life threatening winds,” elaborated Gov. Scott.

“There is a serious threat of significant storm surge flooding along the entire west coast of Florida.

This has increased to 15 feet of impact above ground level.”

“Think about that. 15 feet is devastating and will cover your house. A typical first story is 7 to 10 feet. The storm surge will rush in and could kill you.”

“This is a life threatening situation,” warned Scott. “Central Florida is under a hurricane warning and will see dangerous and life threatening wind and torrential rainfall of more than a foot. Rainfall has already started and wind will begin tonight.”

“We could also see tornadoes.”

Hurricane Irma’s clouds Extend over the Florida Peninsula in this GOES East satellite image at 9:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 9, 2017. At 8 PM EDT the eye of Hurricane Irma was near latitude 23.3 North, longitude 80.8 West. That’s about 110 miles (175 km) southeast of Key West, FL. Credit: NASA/GOES

90+ MPH wind gusts are expected virtually statewide.

Widespread power outages are expected. Over 190,000 power outages have already been reported as of Saturday evening.

Millions more are expected to lose power – including half of all residents says Florida Power and Light (FPL) !

Hundreds of power crews are already prepositioned in place to get the juice flowing as soon as possible after Irma marches northward.

As a precaution earlier this week Scott already ordered all schools and government offices closed statewide until further notice.

Florida hurricane shelters are filling up in some areas and overflowing in others. 385 designated shelters are open already and more are coming. Over 375,000 people have already taken shelter.

Finding open gas stations is increasingly problematical because many are now closing as the storms impact is imminent. Tanker trucks had been replenishing empty storage tanks as best as possible throughout the state over the past few days.

“We are working to keep gas stations open,” said Scott.

8 to 18 inches of rain are expected across the state.

Storm surge warnings are in effect especially for the west coast notably in the Tampa and Sarasota areas where it could reach 5 – 10 feet in Tampa Bay and even higher to 10 to 15 feet along the southwest Florida coast is possible.

“Millions of Floridians will see life threatening winds starting tonight,” Scott warned.

“This is a life-threatening situation.”

“Over 6.5 million have been ordered to evacuate. Get out now if you have been ordered to do so.”

That’s 6.5 million people ordered to evacuate out of the total state population of 20 million – unfathomable.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite X-37B OTV-5 and NASA mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Storm clouds from looming Cat 4 Hurricane Irma obscure the view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Complex 39A as seen from Titusville, FL on Sept. 9, 2017, forcing NASA to close the Kennedy Space Center until the storm passes. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Secret X-37B Military Mini-Shuttle Set for SpaceX Blastoff/Landing Sept. 7 as Cat 5 Hurricane Irma Forces Florida State of Emergency – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolls horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017. The rocket is being processed for liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Although its far from sunny in the so called ‘Sunshine State’ the secret X-37B military mini-shuttle is set for a SpaceX blastoff and booster landing combo Thursday, Sept. 7 – even as the looming threat from Cat 5 Hurricane Irma forced Florida’s Governor to declare a statewide ‘State of Emergency.’

Launch preparations were in full swing today on Florida’s Space Coast for liftoff of the hi tech USAF X-37B reusable spaceplane- hoping to escape to orbit for the first time atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and just in the nick of time tomorrow, before the impending threat of monster storm Irma potentially lashes the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the center of the states long peninsula.

Hurricane Irma Cone forecast on Sept 7, 2017 from the National Hurricane Center. Credit: NHC

Irma is packing winds of 185 mph and one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever. It is being closely tracked in incredibly high resolution by the new NASA/NOAA GOES-16 (GOES-R) satellite launched late last year on a ULA Atlas V in Nov 2016.

I witnessed the entire SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and payload stack being rolled horizontally up the incline to the top of Launch Complex 39A late this afternoon, Sept. 6, during our media visit for up-close camera setup.

Up close head on view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolling horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017. The rocket is being processed for liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Rather remarkably the relatively dismal weather forecast has brightened considerably in the final hours leading to Thursday’s scheduled launch and the forecast heavy rain showers and thunder have dissipated in the time remaining between now and liftoff.

The X-37B reusable mini-shuttle is a secretive technology testing spaceplane flying on its fifth mission overall.

Up close side view of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and nose cone housing the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane slated for liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The path to launch was cleared following the successful engine test firing of the Falcon 9 first stage I witnessed late last week, Thursday afternoon, Aug. 30.

During the hold down static fire test all nine Merlin 9 stage engine were ignited and fired up to full throttle for several seconds. See my static fire story here.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 31, 2017 on Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fl., as seen from nearby Playalinda causeway. Liftoff of the USAF X-37B OTV-5 mini-shuttle mission is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Although the exact launch time remains a closely guarded U.S. Air Force secret, liftoff of the X-37B is slated to occur sometime during a 5 hour long window.

The launch window for the X-37B on the OTV-5 mission opens at 9:50 a.m. EDT (13:50 UTC) and spans until 2:55 p.m. EDT (18:55 UTC) Sept. 7 from seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX will offer their own live webcast beginning approximately 15 minutes before launch starting at about 9:35 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at the SpaceX hosted Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

In the event of delay for any reason, the next launch opportunity is Friday, Sept 8 at approximately the same time and window.

However amidst the heavy duty Hurricane Irma preparations all around, nothing is certain. Local area schools in Brevard County have closed and local residents are preparing their homes and apartments to hunker down, buying food and essentials putting up storm shutters, topping off gas and energy supplies and more.

“If for any reason we cannot launch tomorrow we will reevaluate whether or not we can still support another attempt on Friday, said Wayne R. Monteith, Brig Gen, USAF, Commander, 45th Space Wing.

The weather forecast overall is about 50% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. But the opportunity varies within the long window and the exact launch time is currently classified.

“Hurricane Irma is forecast to be approximately 900 miles southeast of the Spaceport during Thursday’s launch attempt, so while Irma certainly bears watching, the stalled boundary will be the main factor in Thursday’s weather,” noted the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron.

The primary concerns on Sept. 7 are for cumulus clouds and for thick clouds in the flight path.

The odds drop to 40% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Friday, Sept 8

The USAF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is set for blastoff on Sept. 7, 2017, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo: Boeing/USAF

Everything is currently on track for Thursday’s launch of the 230 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 on the X-37B OTV-5 mission.

“The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is undergoing final launch preparations for the fifth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle [OTV],” the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs announced. “The OTV is scheduled to launch on Sept. 7, 2017, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rolls horizontally up incline at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 6 Sept. 2017 ahead of liftoff of the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane mission on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

The X-37B will be launched for the fifth time on the OTV-5 mission atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7 from Launch Complex 39A on the Kennedy Space Center Florida into low Earth orbit.

The Boeing-built X-37B is processed for flight at KSC using refurbished NASA space shuttle processing facilities now dedicated to the reusable mini-shuttle, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). It launches vertically like a satellite but lands horizontally like an airplane and functions as a reliable and reusable space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.

The OTV-5 mission marks the first launch of an X-37B spaceplane by SpaceX.

All four prior OTV missions launched on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and ended with runway landings in either California or Florida.

“The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

“It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community.”

Ground landing of SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) after SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from pad 39A at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX will also attempt another land landing of the 156-foot-tall Falcon 9 first stage back at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) at the Cape.

The Falcon 9 first stage is equipped with a quartet of landing legs and grid fins to enable the rocket recycling plan.

Up close view of SpaceX Falcon 9 landing legs for the X-37B OTV-5 spaceplane slated for liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 7, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

This marks the 7th time SpaceX attempts a ground landing at the Cape.

The booster will touch down about 8 minutes after launch and generate multiple sonic booms screaming loudly across the surrounding region and beyond.

“The fifth OTV mission will also be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope.”

The daylight first stage precision guided landing should offer spectators a thrilling up close view of the rocket reusability technology envisioned by SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk to drastically slash the high costs of launching to space.

Technicians work on the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4, which landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida May 7, 2017. Credit: Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.

The 11,000 pound (4990 kg) state-of -the art reusable OTV space plane is about a quarter the size of a NASA space shuttle. The vehicle measures 29 ft 3 in (8.9 m) in length with a wingspan of 14 ft 11 in (4.5 m).

The X-37B was originally developed by NASA but was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004.

Since then most but not all of the spaceplane’s goals have been shrouded in secrecy.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite X-37B OTV-5 and NASA mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA, NOAA Satellites Track Hurricane Irma’s Path

Record-setting Hurricane Irma barreled over the Caribbean islands of St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Anguilla early Wednesday, destroying buildings with its sustained winds of 185 mph (297 kph), with rains and storm surges causing major flooding. The US National Hurricane Center listed the Category 5 Irma as the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded north of the Caribbean and east of the Gulf of Mexico. The storm continues to roar on a path toward the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and possibly Florida, or along the southeast coast of the US.

This animation of NOAA’s GOES East satellite imagery from Sept. 3 at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 UTC) to Sept. 6 ending at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 UTC) shows Category 5 Hurricane Irma as it moved west and track over St. Martin by 8 a.m. EDT on Sept. 6:

Different models have Irma traveling on slightly different paths and officials from all the areas that might possibly be hit are telling people to prepare and follow evacuation orders. National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake said via twitter that some models had the storm going one way, and some another. But he cautioned everyone in a potential path should take precautions. “Model trends can be quite misleading- could just change right back. It is all probabilistic at this point. It could still miss [one particular area]. But chances of an extreme event is rising.”

The fleet of Earth-observing satellites are providing incredible views of this monster storm, and even astronauts on board the International Space Station are capturing views:

While satellite views provide the most comprehensive view of Irma’s potential track, there’s also a more ‘hands-on’ approach to getting data on hurricanes. NOAA hurricane hunter Nick Underwood posted this video while his plane flew into Hurricane Irma yesterday. The plane’s specialized instruments can take readings on the storm that forecasters can’t get anywhere else:

But Irma isn’t the only storm to keep an eye on. Tropical storms Katia and Jose are also on the horizon:

In the meantime, a launch is scheduled from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, September 7. SpaceX is hoping to launch the US Air Force’s X-37B reusable spaceplane, but current forecasts put only a 50% chance of weather suitable enough on Thursday, and only 40% on Friday. We’ll keep you posted.

For the latest satellite views, the Twitter accounts above are posting regular updates.

On Sept. 4 at 17:24 UTC, NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of Hurricane Irma as a Category 4 hurricane approaching the Leeward Islands.
Credits: NOAA/NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team.

New Age in Weather Forecasting Begins with Spectacular 1st Images from NASA/NOAA GOES-16 Observatory

GOES-16 (previously known as GOES-R) captured this view of the moon as it looked across the surface of the Earth on January 15, 2017. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. Credit: NOAA/NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A new age has begun in the nations weather forecasting capabilities with the release today (Jan. 23) of the spectacular first images gathered by the recently launched NASA/NOAA GOES-16 observatory.

The highly advanced Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-16 (GOES-16) weather observatory lifted off two months ago atop a ULA Atlas V rocket on Nov. 19, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

GOES-16 (formerly known as GOES-R through the launch) is the first in a new series of revolutionary NASA/NOAA geostationary weather satellites that entails the first significant instrument upgrade to US weather forecasting capabilities in more than two decades.

“It will be like high-definition from the heavens,” says NOAA.

“Today’s release of the first images from #GOES16 signals the start of a new age in satellite weather observation!!!”

Thus the newly obtained and published imagery has been anxiously awaited by scientists, meteorologists and ordinary weather enthusiasts.

“This is such an exciting day for NOAA! One of our GOES-16 scientists compared this to seeing a newborn baby’s first pictures — it’s that exciting for us,” said Stephen Volz Ph.D. director of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, in a statement.

“These images come from the most sophisticated technology ever flown in space to predict severe weather on Earth. The fantastically rich images provide us with our first glimpse of the impact GOES-16 will have on developing life-saving forecasts.”

This image clearly shows the significant storm system that crossed North America that caused freezing and ice that resulted in dangerous conditions across the United States on January 15, 2017 resulting in loss of life. Credit: NOAA/NASA

An especially eye-popping image taken by GOES -16 from its equatorial vantage point situated in geostationary orbit 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) above Earth and published today, shows both the Earth and the Moon together – as the lead image here.

The Earth/Moon combo shot is not only fantastically pleasing to the eye, but also serves a significant scientific purpose.

“Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration,” say NOAA officials.

“GOES-16 will boost the nation’s weather observation network and NOAA’s prediction capabilities, leading to more accurate and timely forecasts, watches and warnings.”

GOES-16 is the most advanced and powerful weather observatory ever built and will bring about a ‘quantum leap’ in weather forecasting.

“Seeing these first images from GOES-16 is a foundational moment for the team of scientists and engineers who worked to bring the satellite to launch and are now poised to explore new weather forecasting possibilities with this data and imagery,” said Volz.

“The incredibly sharp images are everything we hoped for based on our tests before launch. We look forward to exploiting these new images, along with our partners in the meteorology community, to make the most of this fantastic new satellite.”

It’s dramatic new imagery will show the weather in real time enabling critical life and property forecasting, help pinpoint evacuation zones and also save people’s lives in impacted areas of severe weather including hurricanes and tornadoes.

And the huge satellite can’t come online soon enough, as demonstrated by the severe winter weather and tornadoes that just wreaked havoc and death in various regions of the US.

Another breathtaking image product (seen below) produced by the GOES-16 Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument, built by Harris Corporation, shows a full-disc view of the Western Hemisphere in high detail — at four times the image resolution of existing GOES spacecraft.

This composite color full-disk visible image shows North and South America and was taken on January 15, 2017. It was created using several of the 16 spectral channels available on the GOES-16 Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument. Credit: NOAA/NASA

The 11,000 pound satellite was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin and is the first of a quartet of four identical satellites – comprising GOES-R, S, T, and U – at an overall cost of about $11 Billion. This will keep the GOES satellite system operational through 2036.

This next generation of GOES satellites will replace the currently operating GOES East and GOES West satellites.

NOAA will soon decide whether GOES-16 will replace either the East or West satellites. A decision from NOAA is expected in May. GOES-16 will be operational by November 2017 as either the GOES-East or GOES-West satellite. Of course everyone wants it first.

The next satellite is nearing assembly completion and will undergo about a year of rigorous environmental and acoustic testing before launch. It will go to whichever slot was not selected this year.

This 16-panel image shows the continental United States in the two visible, four near-infrared and 10 infrared channels on the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). These channels help forecasters distinguish between differences in the atmosphere like clouds, water vapor, smoke, ice and volcanic ash. Credit: NOAA/NASA

The six instrument science suite includes the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) built by Harris Corporation, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) built by Lockheed Martin, Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and the Magnetometer (MAG).

ABI is the primary instrument and will collect 3 times more spectral data with 4 times greater resolution and scans 5 times faster than ever before – via the primary Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument – compared to the current GOES satellites.

Northeast Coast and New York Metropolitan region. On January 15, 2017 severe weather moved across the central United States before passing through the Northeast on the 16th and 17th where it resulted in wet and wintry weather for travelers across the region. Credit: NOAA/NASA

“The higher resolution will allow forecasters to pinpoint the location of severe weather with greater accuracy. GOES-16 can provide a full image of Earth every 15 minutes and one of the continental U.S. every five minutes, and scans the Earth at five times the speed of NOAA’s current GOES imagers.”

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of successful launch on a ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R/GOES-16 will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GOES-R launched on the massively powerful Atlas V 541 configuration vehicle, augmented by four solid rocket boosters on the first stage. As I witnessed and reported here.

Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) on ULA Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Florida and The Caribbean. In May 2017, NOAA will announce the planned location for GOES-16. By November 2017, GOES-16 will be operational as either the GOES-East or GOES-West satellite. At its current check out location the satellite captured this image of the Caribbean and Florida. Here the satellite captures the shallows waters of the Caribbean. Credit: NOAA/NASA

Revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R Geostationary Weather Satellite Awesome Night Launch

Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) on a ULA Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016 - as seen from the VAB roof.  GOES-R will soon deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) on a ULA Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016 – as seen from the VAB roof. GOES-R will soon deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – GOES-R, the first in a new series of revolutionary NASA/NOAA geostationary weather satellites blasted off on an awesome nighttime launch to orbit this evening from the Florida Space Coast.

Liftoff of the highly advanced Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) weather observatory bolted atop a ULA Atlas V rocket came at 6:42 p.m. EST on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The launch was delayed for an hour until the very end of the launch window to deal with unexpected technical and Eastern range issues, that only added more drama and changed the sunset launch into a night launch for the hordes of spectators who gathered here from around the world – appropriate since this probe will touch the lives of humans world wide.

“It’s a dramatic leap in capability – like moving from black and white TV to HDTV,” explained Greg Mandt, the NOAA GOES-R program manager during a prelaunch media briefing in the cleanroom processing facility at Astrotech.

“This is a very exciting time,” explained Greg Mandt, the NOAA GOES-R program manager during the Astrotech cleanroom briefing.

“This is the culmination of about 15 years of intense work for the great team of NOAA and NASA and our contractors Lockheed Martin and Harris.”

“We are bringing the nation a new capability. The GOES program has been around for about 40 years and most every American sees it every night on the weather broadcasts when they see go to the satellite imagery. And what’s really exciting is that for the first time in that 40 years we are really end to end replacing the entire GOES system. The weather community is really excited about what we are bringing.”

GOES-R will bring about a “quantum leap” in weather forecasting capabilities that will soon lead to more accurate and timely forecasts, watches and warnings for the Earth’s Western Hemisphere when it becomes fully operational in about a year.

But the first images are expected within weeks! And both researchers and weather forecasters can’t wait to see, analyze and put to practical use the sophisticated new images and data that will improve forecasts and save lives during extreme weather events that are occurring with increasing frequency.

Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) on ULA Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) on ULA Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GOES-R will be renamed GOES-16 after it reaches its final orbit 22,000 above Earth about two weeks from now.

Over the next year, teams of engineers and scientists will check out and validate the state of the art suite of six science instruments that also includes the first operational lightning mapper in geostationary orbit – dubbed the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM).

“The launch of GOES-R represents a major step forward in terms of our ability to provide more timely and accurate information that is critical for life-saving weather forecasts and warnings,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“It also continues a decades-long partnership between NASA and NOAA to successfully build and launch geostationary environmental satellites.”
GOES-R, which stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series – is a new and advanced transformational weather satellite that will vastly enhance the quality, speed and accuracy of weather forecasting available to forecasters for Earth’s Western Hemisphere.

The science suite includes the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and the Magnetometer (MAG).

ABI is the primary instrument and will collect 3 times more spectral data with 4 times greater resolution and scans 5 times faster than ever before – via the primary Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument – compared to the current GOES satellites.

So instead of seeing weather as it was, viewers will see weather as it is.

Whereas the current GOES-NOP imagers scan the full hemispheric disk in 26 minutes, the new GOES-ABI can simultaneously scan the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes, the Continental U.S. every 5 minutes and areas of severe weather every 30-60 seconds.

Launch of NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather observatory on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather observatory on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

“The next generation of weather satellites is finally here,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan.

“GOES-R will strengthen NOAA’s ability to issue life-saving forecasts and warnings and make the United States an even stronger, more resilient weather-ready nation.”

Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) on a ULA Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016 - as seen from the VAB roof.  GOES-R will soon deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of revolutionary NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) on a ULA Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016 – as seen from the VAB roof. GOES-R will soon deliver a quantum leap in America’s weather forecasting capabilities. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It is designed to last for a 15 year orbital lifetime.

The 11,000 pound satellite was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin and is the first of a quartet of four identical satellites – comprising GOES-R, S, T, and U – at an overall cost of about $11 Billion. This will keep the GOES satellite system operational through 2036.

Today’s launch was the 10th of the year for ULA and the 113th straight successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

GOES-R launched on the Atlas V 541 configuration vehicle, augmented by four solid rocket boosters on the first stage. The payload fairing is 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter. The first stage is powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. And the Centaur upper stage is powered by a single-engine Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine.

This was only the fourth Atlas V launch employing the 541 configuration.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) is poised for launch on a ULA Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) is poised for launch on a ULA Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch of NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather observatory on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, as seen from Playalinda beach. Credit: Jillian Laudick
Launch of NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather observatory on ULA Atlas V on Nov. 19, 2016 from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, as seen from Playalinda beach. Credit: Jillian Laudick

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Learn more about GOES-R weather satellite, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6 & CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Nov 19-20: “GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

In the Cleanroom with Game Changing GOES-R Next Gen Weather Satellite – Launching Nov. 19

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After an ironic detour due to Hurricane Matthew, liftoff of the game changing NASA/NOAA next generation GOES-R geostationary weather observation satellite offering a “dramatic leap in capability” is finally on track for this weekend on Nov. 19 from the Florida Space Coast.

And Universe Today recently got an up close look and briefing about the massive probe inside the cleanroom processing facility at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Fl.

“We are bringing the nation a new capability .. that’s a dramatic leap .. to scan the entire hemisphere in about 5 minutes,” said Greg Mandt, NOAA GOES-R program manager during a briefing in the Astrotech cleanroom.

“GOES-R has both weather and space weather detection capabilities!” Tim Gasparrini, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, told Universe Today during a cleanroom interview.

Astrotech is located just a few miles down the road from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the KSC Visitor Complex housing the finest exhibits of numerous spaceships, hardware items and space artifacts.

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of planned launch on a ULA Atlas V slated for Nov. 19, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GOES-R, which stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series – is a new and advanced transformational weather satellite that will vastly enhance the quality, speed and accuracy of weather forecasting available to forecasters for Earth’s Western Hemisphere.

The impact of deadly Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew on the Florida Space Coast on October 7, forced the closure of the vital Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch and processing vital facilities that ultimately resulted in a two week launch delay due to storm related effects and facilities damage.

Liftoff of the NASA/NOAA GOES-R weather satellite atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is now scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19 at 5:42 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, shortly after sunset.

The launch window extends for an hour from 5:42-6:42 p.m. EST.

GOES-R is the first in a new series of American’s most powerful and most advanced next generation weather observation satellites. It is designed to last for a 15 year orbital lifetime.

Once in orbit it will be known as GOES-16. TV viewers are presently accustomed to seeing daily streams of imagery from the GOES-East and GOES-West weather observation satellites currently in orbit.

What’s the big deal about GOES-R?

Audiences will notice big changes from GOES-R once it becomes operational because it will provide images of weather patterns and severe storms as regularly as every five minutes or as frequently as every 30 seconds.

“These images can be used to aid in weather forecasts, severe weather outlooks, watches and warnings, lightning conditions, maritime forecasts and aviation forecasts.

“It also will assist in longer term forecasting, such as in seasonal predictions and drought outlooks. In addition, space weather conditions will be monitored constantly, including the effects of solar flares to provide advance notice of potential communication and navigation disruptions. It also will assist researchers in understanding the interactions between land, oceans, the atmosphere and climate.”

GOES-R was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin and is the first of a four satellite series – comprising GOES-R, S, T, and U that will be keep the GOES satellite system operational through 2036.

All four of the revolutionary 11,000 pound satellites are identical. The overall cost is about $11 Billion.

“This is a very exciting time,” explained Greg Mandt, the NOAA GOES-R program manager during the Astrotech cleanroom briefing.

“This is the culmination of about 15 years of intense work for the great team of NOAA and NASA and our contractors Lockheed Martin and Harris.”

“We are bringing the nation a new capability. The GOES program has been around for about 40 years and most every American sees it every night on the weather broadcasts when they see go to the satellite imagery. And what’s really exciting is that for the first time in that 40 years we are really end to end replacing the entire GOES system. The weather community is really excited about what we are bringing.”

“It’s a dramatic leap in capability – like moving from black and white TV to HDTV.”

“We will be able to scan the entire hemisphere in about 5 minutes and do things so much faster with double the resolution.”

The NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris GOES-R team gives a big thumbs up for the dramatic leap in capability this next gen weather observation satellite will provide - during media briefing at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris GOES-R team gives a big thumbs up for the dramatic leap in capability this next gen weather observation satellite will provide – during media briefing at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was built in facilities in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Denver, Colorado. It arrived at Astrotech in August for final processing and checkouts of the spacecraft and instruments.

The gigantic school bus sized satellite is equipped with a suite of six instruments or sensors that are the most advanced of their kind. They will be used for three types of observations: Earth sensing, solar imaging, and space environment measuring. They will point to the Earth, the Sun and the in-situ environment of the spacecraft.

The suite includes the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI), Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS), and the Magnetometer (MAG).

The two Earth-pointing instruments are on the top of the spacecraft – namely ABI and GLM.

“ABI is the premier instrument on the spacecraft. When you turn on the news and see a severe storm picture, that’s the one it comes from. It takes pictures in the visible as well as the infrared (IR), near infrared (IR),” Tim Gasparrini, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, told Universe Today during a cleanroom interview.

“It is looking for things like moisture, vegetation, aerosols and fire. So it looks across a broad spectrum to determine the environmental conditions on Earth.”

ABI offers 3 times more spectral channels with 4 times greater resolution and scans 5 times faster than ever before, compared to the current GOES satellites.

The GOES-R ABI will view the Earth with 16 different spectral bands (compared to five on current GOES), including two visible channels, four near-infrared channels, and ten infrared channels, according to the mission fact sheet.

It will also carry the first operational lightning mapper ever flown in space – GLM – built by Lockheed Martin. It has a single-channel, near-infrared optical transient detector.

“This is the first lightning mapper in space and at geostationary orbit.”

“GLM takes a picture of a scene on the Earth 500 times per second. And it compares those images for a change in the scene that can detect lightning, using an algorithm,” Gasparrini told me.

“The importance of that is lightning is a precursor to severe weather. So they are hoping that GLM will up to double the tornado warning time. So instead of 10 minutes warning you get 20 minutes warning, for example.”

GLM will measure total lightning (in-cloud, cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground) activity continuously over the Americas and adjacent ocean regions with near-uniform spatial resolution of approximately 10 km.

Side view of NASA/NOAA GOES-R next gen weather observation satellite shoewing asolar [anels and instruments inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view of NASA/NOAA GOES-R next gen weather observation satellite showing solar panels and instruments inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL. Launch is set for Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“The two solar pointing instruments are located on a platform that constantly points them at the sun – SUVI (built by Lockheed Martin and EXIS. SUVI looks at the sun in the ultraviolet and EXIS looks at the x-ray wavelengths.”

The instruments work in concert.

“SUVI detects a solar flare on he sun and EXIS measures the intensity of the flare. As it comes towards the Earth, NOAA then uses the DSCOVR satellite [launched last year] as sort of a warning buoy about 30 minutes before the Earth. This gives a warning that a geomagnetic storm is heading toward the Earth.”

“When the storm reaches the Earth, the magnetometer instrument (MAG) on GOES-R then measures the influence of the magnetic storm on the magnetic field of the Earth.”

“Then the SEISS instrument, a charged particle detector, measures the charged particle effect of the storm on the Earth at geostationary orbit.”

“So GOES-R has both weather and space weather detection capabilities!” Gasparini elaborated.

The huge bus sized satellite measures 6.1 m x 5.6 m x 3.9 m (20.0 ft x 18.4 ft x 12.8 ft) with a three-axis stabilized spacecraft bus.

It has a dry mass of 2,857 kg (6,299 lbs) and a fueled mass of 5,192 kg (11,446 lbs) at launch.

The instruments are very sensitive to contamination and the team is taking great care to limit particulate and molecular contaminants in the cleanroom. Some of the instruments have contamination budget limits of less than 10 angstroms – smaller than the diameter of a typical molecule. So there can’t even be a single layer of molecules on the instruments surface after 15 years on orbit.

GOES-R weather observation satellite instrument suite. Credit: NASA/NOAA
GOES-R weather observation satellite instrument suite. Credit: NASA/NOAA

GOES-R can also multitask according to a NASA/NOAA factsheet.

“It can scan the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes, the Continental U.S. every 5 minutes and areas of severe weather every 30-60 seconds. All at the same time!”

GOES-R will blastoff on a ULA Atlas V in the very powerful 541 configuration, augmented by four solid rocket boosters on the first stage. The payload fairing is 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter and the upper stage is powered by a single-engine Centaur.

It will be launched to a Geostationary orbit some 22,300 miles above Earth.

The Atlas V booster has been assembled inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at SLC-41 and will be rolled out to the launch pad Friday morning, Nov. 18 with the GOES-R weather satellite encapsulated inside the nose cone.

The weather forecast shows a 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for Saturday’s sunset blastoff.

GOES-R logo
GOES-R logo. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about GOES-R weather satellite, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6 & CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Nov 17-20: “GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

GOES-R infographic
GOES-R infographic
Tim Gasparinni, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, and Ken Kremer/University Today pose with GOES-R revolutionary weather satellite inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL, and built by NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Tim Gasparinni, GOES-R program manager for Lockheed Martin, and Ken Kremer/University Today pose with GOES-R revolutionary weather satellite inside Astrotech Space Operations cleanroom, in Titusville, FL, and built by NASA/NOAA/Lockheed Martin/Harris. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com