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GOES Overview

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite

The new generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES I through M) is a basic element of the NWS monitoring and forecast operations and is a key component of the NWS operations and modernization program. Spacecraft and ground-based systems work together to accomplish the GOES mission of providing weather imagery and quantitative sounding data that forms a continuous and reliable stream of environmental information used for weather forecasting and related services. 

The Instruments

GOES Deployed Configuration

Each satellite has two major instruments. One instrument is called the Imager. It transmits images which provide information on clouds, water vapor, fire, smoke, wind, and temperature. The other instrument is called the Sounder. It sends back information on temperatures in the atmosphere and on the land and sea surface. It also transmits data on ozone and clouds, and on water vapor in different layers of the atmosphere. 

New Capabilities

The new series of GOES satellites provides significant improvements over the previous GOES system in weather imagery and atmospheric sounding information. This enhanced system improves weather services, particularly the forecasting of life-and property-threatening severe storms. GOES I-M represents the next generation of meteorological satellites and introduces two new features. The first feature, flexible scan, offers small-scale area imaging that lets meteorologists take pictures of local weather trouble spots. This allows them to improve short-term forecasts over local areas. The second feature, simultaneous and independent imaging and sounding, is designed to allow weather forecasters to use multiple measurements of weather phenomena to increase the accuracy of their forecasts.


GOES serves a region covering the central and eastern Pacific Ocean (including Hawaii); North, Central, and South America; and the central and western Atlantic Ocean. This is accomplished by two satellites, GOES West located at 135 degrees west longitude and GOES East at 75 degrees west longitude. Dual-satellite coverage will be assured throughout the remainder of this century. A ground station at Wallops, Virginia, supports the interface to both satellites.

Day or night, photo images and atmospheric soundings provide forecasters with critical global information about hazardous weather over the continents and oceans. While revolutionizing the ability to track large-scale weather features, satellites have only begun to meet their potential for providing valuable data for forecasters.

To learn more about weather satellites, their history, and the images that meteorologists use from them... visit the University of Illinois' tutorial.

Color images used on this page courtesy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.