Lockheed Martin has begun final assembly of a weather satellite that will allow the US government to provide far earlier warnings about tornadoes and solar flares when it is launched in early 2016.
Lockheed last week powered on a key part of the satellite for the first time in a special "clean room" at a sprawling facility south of Denver, where engineers are assembling the satellite and testing components before the whole spacecraft moves to environmental and thermal-vacuum testing in July.
The company won a US$1.09 billion contract in 2009 to build two nine-metre, 6.4 tonne Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (Goes-R) satellites for space agency Nasa and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which have since exercised options for two additional satellites.
The first of the Goes-R satellites is on track for delivery to the US government by October 2015, followed by launch into geosynchronous orbit about 35,000km above the earth in early 2016, Steve Jolly, chief engineer for the programme, said during the first media tour of the cavernous "high bay" room where the satellite is being built.
Jolly said the new satellite would allow revolutionary new weather forecasting capabilities, offering imagery with four times better resolution and five times more data. "It's just phenomenal," Jolly said. "It can scan the entire (Western) hemisphere in five minutes."
Using a new lightning tracker, also built by Lockheed, the satellite would be able to predict the formation of tornadoes up to 20 minutes sooner than currently possible, Jolly said, adding: "Twenty minutes can be a matter of life or death."