The contract went to SpaceX after its competitor, the United Launch Alliance, withdrew its bid to launch the satellite, as Space News reported. The ULA launched the previous satellites that make up the GOES project, which NASA and NOAA run together. This is the fourth and final one in the GOES-R series, which stands for “Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.”
These satellites orbit the Earth at a rate of speed that matches our little blue ball’s rotation, meaning they “stay in a fixed position in the sky, remaining stationary with respect to a point on the ground,” per NASA. They’re up there to observe the weather in the Western Hemisphere, which is getting more and more severe. From NASA: “GOES-U will provide advanced imagery and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s weather, oceans, and environment, as well as real-time mapping of total lightning activity and improved monitoring of solar activity and space weather.”
The contract is worth $152.5 million, and the launch on a Falcon Heavy rocket is set for April 2024. The rocket bearing the satellite will launch from the Kennedy Space Center, and the satellite will stay up there for 15 years.
In a report, Business Insider calls all this an “ambitious environmental mission,” but it these launches do come at an environmental cost. A recent report from the Guardian discusses the damage that SpaceX is causing to the ecosystems around its Boca Chica launch site, and I encourage you to read it. While NASA’s weather satellites don’t launch from South Texas, SpaceX plans to launch its Super Heavy rockets there. What greater consequences will that have on Boca Chica?