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NASA, NOAA Weather Satellite Fully Operational

With Hurricane Earl threatening the eastern seaboard, a new Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite is now ready for tracking life-threatening weather and solar activity.

A new satellite to track life-threatening weather and solar activity has gone into action just in time for the first major storm of this hurricane season in the U.S. The latest Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, GOES-15, has completed five months of testing in orbit and is now fully operational, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which developed the technology.

Geostationary crafts provide continuous monitoring that weather forecasters and others need for intensive data analysis. Their name comes from their orbit, which is geosynchronous; meaning that they orbit the equatorial plane of the Earth at a speed matching the planet's rotation, according to NOAA. This orbit allows them to hover over one position on the Earth's surface.

The GOES fleet keeps track of weather and solar activity that could impact satellite-based electronics and the communications industry, as well as pose a threat to human life. Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems, Lockheed Martin, ITT and United Launch Alliance helped the agencies develop the GOES fleet.

Storms like Hurricane Earl, which is currently threatening the U.S. East Coast, are tracked by the GOES fleet. The new satellite will be in stand-by mode, however, with another one, GOES-14. Two crafts NOAA operates -- GOES-13 in the east and GOES-11 in the west -- currently provide weather observations that cover more than 50 percent of the Earth's surface. If one of those were to fail or run out of fuel, one of the back-up fleet could go into operation in 24 hours. NOAA manages and funds the GOES program, as well as distributes environmental satellite data, while NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center procures and manages the design, development and launch of the satellites.

GOES-13 will be keeping an eye on Earl, which forecasters said will glance off the coast of North Carolina at Cape Hatteras tonight. Though the storm itself isn't expected to make landfall, it is expected to affect the area from North Carolina to Boston.In the meantime, NASA has posted a six-minute video of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season as seen from GOES-12 -- formerly the satellite covering the East Coast -- online. The video showcases NASA technology and NOAA satellite data.

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