Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been awarded a $152.5 million government contract to deploy a critical new weather satellite into the space. NASA said it had chosen SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy heavy-lift deployment rocket to carry Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U (GOES-U) into thousands of kilometers into the space. The satellite will gather images and atmospheric readings of oceans, weather, and environmental systems once it is in orbit, map lightning in real-time, and increase solar activity as well as space weather monitoring.
The deployment of the GOES-U is going to be the last satellite in GOES-R series, which began in 2016. It’s the most modern fleet of weather satellites the US has, providing an unmatched view of Earth. It’s a partnership between National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. The satellites are identified by letters when on the ground. They’ll get a number once they’re in orbit, though. (GOES-U, probably GOES-19, will be nineteenth GOES satellite.)
The launch, which is set for April 2024 from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, has become a significant victory for SpaceX. It comes after United Launch Alliance, a competitor for spacecraft launches services, dropped its proposal. ULA was given a smaller contract in 2019 to launch the GOES-T (yeah, that’s a bulk of GOES) satellite, the third in GOES-R series, in 2022 January. However, the firm stated that it did not have any suitable vehicles for the fourth mission, allowing SpaceX to step in.
These kinds of missions are crucial for learning more about the Earth and space. For example, the upcoming GOES satellite is projected to enhance weather prediction at a period when severe weather is becoming increasingly regular and unstable, perhaps saving lives. It will also produce beautiful images of our world, which is less critical but nonetheless cool.
Falcon Heavy contracts have been piling up for SpaceX. NASA selected the company in July to deploy Falcon Heavy spacecraft to one of Jupiter’s moons to search for signs of aquatic extraterrestrial life, and NASA contractor Astrobiotic selected the company in April to deliver the NASA lunar lander to moon’s yet-to-be-explored south pole in the late 2023. These contracts bring in a lot of money for the company, which provides Musk, who is already renowned for his shady labor practices, even more leverage. While launching a satellite into the space for the high-resolution weather observations is exciting, there may be a more democratic method to launch future satellites.