SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches NOAA’s GOES-U weather satellite

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launched with NOAA’s newest weather satellite at 5:26 p.m. ET. The GOES-U weather satellite will provide weather data to National Weather Service forecasters who issue severe weather warnings and hurricane forecasts.

SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket blasted off on Tuesday with NOAA’s next great GOES weather satellite, successfully dodging clouds around Florida's Space Coast. 

The Falcon Heavy launched from Kennedy Space Center’s Launchpad 39A, making SpaceX's first launch of NOAA’s most advanced weather satellites, part of the GOES-R series. The GOES-U satellite was mated to the rocket’s nosecone, or fairings. Once in orbit, the satellite will work its way to a position more than 22,000 miles above Earth.

NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite U (GOES-U) is the last in NOAA's GOES-R series of satellites

Before the launch, the Florida weather needed to be clear for the Falcon Heavy to lift off. 

The two-hour launch window opened at 5:16 p.m. ET but NASA and SpaceX opted to delay the liftoff to 5:26 p.m. ET to avoid some incoming cloud cover.


Launch Weather Officer Melody Lovin with the U.S. Space Force's 45th Weather Squadron is part of a team of forecasters monitoring the conditions around the launch site. The launch forecasting team uses weather balloons to gather data ahead of the launch. 

"It's all about that sea breeze, and it's all about that steering flow," Lovin said. "So when I looked at the weather balloon sounding this morning, it was actually much lighter westerly flow than what we were anticipating previously. That's a really good thing."

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy has three boosters, two of which returned to land at Cape Canaveral about 8 minutes after launch, sending the booming sound of double sonic booms throughout Central Florida. Florida's Space Coast residents were warned ahead of time about the noise. The sound can travel as far as Orlando from Florida's coast.

What will GOES-U do in space?

Data from NOAA's GOES satellites is intertwined with nearly every forecast Americans read daily. 

All GOES-R satellites have the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), which provides detailed imagery of hurricanes and other weather, helping the NWS issue severe weather alerts. The Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) can help forecasters with NOAA's National Weather Service issue advanced warnings of severe thunderstorms or even tornadoes

"With the information that we get from satellites, people might not realize how many decisions – especially with commerce, safety, aviation, shipments – are being made based on information that we're getting from satellites," NWS Meteorologist Krizia Negron said. "It allows us to have a clear picture of what's happening. And with time and with experience, meteorologists can now understand way better what could be happening in the next few hours based on behavior from current observations."

The most significant change with GOES-U is the addition of the compact chronograph to improve space weather forecasting. This chronograph will continuously monitor the Sun's outer atmosphere, known as the corona, allowing NOAA forecasters to see where extreme space weather like solar flares and coronal mass ejections originate. 

"With this instrument, now we're going to have observations every 30 minutes that will allow us to see any solar eruptions or coronal mass ejections that push that energy. And if that energy comes to Earth. Then we can take precautionary actions to protect the power grids and communications," Negron said.

The new solar storm forecasting capability should be online by spring 2025 in time for solar maximum, the peak in the 11-year solar cycle. 

Once in its final orbit, GOES-U will become GOES-19, acting as NOAA's GOES-East satellite, watching over North and South America and the surrounding oceans