Following on the heels of NOAA's successful launch of the GOES-16 Earth observing satellite in November 2016, Unidata is moving ahead with plans to launch its own orbiter early next year. Unlike GOES-16, which provides a wide variety of observations including rapidly refreshing a full-disk imagery of the Western hemisphere, the first Geostationary Unidata Observing Satellite (GUOS-1) will focus its instruments on observations of the area immediately surrounding the Unidata Program Center in Boulder, Colorado.
The imagery footprint of GUOS-1 will extend over a radius of approximately 25 miles centered on Boulder. In addition to providing insight into weather in the famed “Boulder Bubble,” the imager will take in the Eldora Mountain Resort ski area located just west of Nederland, CO. “If it's snowing at Eldora, we're going to know before anyone east of Nederland,” says Unidata's in-house forecaster Jeff Weber. “I, for one, am planning to keep a pair of skis in the office between November and April, in case our observations show particularly good conditions in the Corona Bowl.”
Although original plans for the GUOS-1 satellite called for significant federal involvement and a much larger instrument package, a re-evaluation in late 2016 led to creation of a more nimble strategy for the program. “Basically, we decided to use some of the gear we've got sitting around the Unidata office to build the thing, rather than going to Congress,” says Unidata systems administrator Mike Schmidt, who found many of the parts needed for the satellite in boxes in his office. By repurposing existing equipment (and shopping for a few deals on Ebay), Unidata hopes to be able to pay for the entire GUOS-1 project from leftover staff picnic funds and loose change found on the floor of the conference room.
“We did so much to get the Unidata Program Center ready to ingest the data from GOES-16, it seemed a shame not to piggyback on that effort and get some hyperlocal observations,” says Unidata's Tom Yoksas, who along with Schmidt is deeply involved in Unidata's program to make GOES-16 data available to the university community. “Here's the thing,” continues Yoksas; “with GUOS-1 I'll be able to check the road conditions between my house and the Unidata office, so my chances of getting stuck in traffic in Boulder canyon go way down.”
Nor is the GUOS program without benefit to the broader Unidata community. “There always seems to be interesting weather here in Boulder during our semi-annual governing committee meetings,” says Unidata program director Mohan Ramamurthy. “Having our own observational platform means we'll be able to tell visiting committee members what it's like outside before they leave their hotel rooms to walk over to the Program Center.”
For the Unidata Program Center, this happy confluence of capacity and opportunity makes the GUOS project hard to ignore. “We've already got a dish in place to receive the GOES-16 signal,” says Schmidt. “Using that equipment as the downlink for our own satellite too just makes sense. Plus, by routing the signal through the new dish, we'll get high-bandwidth connectivity to the Data Hallway, which of course is always a priority for us.”
Launch of GUOS-1 is scheduled for between 10am and 2pm on April Fool's Day, 2018.