'Most advanced weather satellite ever built' blasts off
The most advanced weather satellite ever built has rocketed into space as part of an 11 billion dollar (£8.9 billion) effort to revolutionise forecasting and save lives.
The new GOES-R spacecraft will track US weather as never before, helping to monitor hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires, lightning storms and even solar flares.
About 50 TV meteorologists from around the country converged on the launch site at Cape Canaveral in Florida - including NBC's Al Roker - along with 8,000 space programme workers and guests.
Mr Roker said: "What's so exciting is that we're going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed, higher resolution.
In the case of tornadoes, he said that "if we can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes, we're talking about lives being saved".
Stephen Volz, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) director of satellites, said the spacecraft was "really a quantum leap above any satellite NOAA has ever flown".
He added: "For the American public, that will mean faster, more accurate weather forecasts and warnings.
"That also will mean more lives saved and better environmental intelligence."
Airline passengers also stand to benefit, as improved forecasting will help pilots avoid bad weather. The information gathered could also help rocket scientists know when to call off a launch.
Nasa declared the mission a success three and a half hours after lift-off, following separation from the upper stage.
The first in a series of four high-tech satellites, GOES-R hitched a ride on an unmanned Atlas V rocket, delayed an hour by rocket and other problems. NOAA teamed up with NASA for the mission.
The satellite, valued by NOAA at one billion dollars (£800 million) is aiming for a 22,300-mile-high equatorial orbit.
There, it will join three ageing spacecraft with 40-year-old technology, and become known as GOES-16. After months of testing, this newest satellite will take over for one of the older ones. The second satellite in the series will follow in 2018. All told, the series should stretch to 2036.
GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. The first was launched in 1975.
GOES-R's premier imager - one of six science instruments - will offer three times as many channels as the existing system, four times the resolution and five times the scan speed.
Typically, it will churn out full images of the Western Hemisphere every 15 minutes and the continental United States every five minutes. Specific storm regions will be updated every 30 seconds.