A new “Rocket Plume” RGB with ABI Data

March 1st, 2018 |

A new RGB has been developed to highlight possible Rocket Plumes from the Advanced Baseline Imagers (ABI) imagery. Many Red-Green-Blue (RGB) composite image recipes can be applied to the GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) ABI data. Owing to the new spectral bands, finer spatial resolutions and more applications, there are new RGBs to be considered. Many questions should be considered when you develop an RGB: is there an existing RGB that could be used/modified or does a derived product that highlights the feature of interest. Other factors include: spectral bands, band order, bands differences, band ranges, difference ranges, gamma factor, color contrasts, inverting any ranges, etc. The “rocket plume” RGB uses the 3.9, 6.2 and 0.64 (or 1.6 during the night) micrometer bands. A “quick guide” has been generated to summary this RGB. To simplify any operational use, the “daytime” rocket plume RGB can be used both during the day and night. The main use of this RGB is for a quick-look or situational awareness. While most users will not need to develop their own RGB, understanding the process makes it easier for users of existing RGBs to appreciate what an RGB is and is not. Thanks to Bill Line, there’s AWIPS — Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (xml) code to display this RGB.

Examples (in reverse chronically order)

Test engine burn

Rocket Plume RGB from GOES-16 for a test engine burn on March 18, 2021 in Mississippi.

The above case was a core stage test rocket burn near Stennis Space Center for a NASA SLS rocket. This was a “test of only the core stage which burns LH2 and LOX making lots of water vapor, and the test remained on the earth surface, and it made a very large low altitude water vapor, which was detected by the visible bands.” Note these NASA TV image1, image2, image3 for an SLS event (in September of 2020). This March case only had 5 minute ABI data and the location did not get as hot as an actual rocket launch. A still image from 20:41 UTC shows a very slight blue hint, from the ABI high resolution visible band.

SpaceX launch of the Sentinel-6 satellite

Rocket Plume RGB from GOES-17 for a SpaceX mission in California in November of 2020.

The SpaceX launch of the Sentinel-6 satellite in November of 2020 from GOES-17. A still image from 17:19 UTC where both the plume and warming can be observed.

SpaceX crewed mission

Rocket Plume RGB from GOES-16 for the crewed Dragon mission on November 16, 2020 off the Florida coast.

The signature of the SpaceX launch of the Dragon crew mission was clearly visible in the rocket plume RGB. The corresponding still image at 00:29 UTC clearly shows two launch signatures.

Antares rocket launch from Wallops Flight Facility

Rocket Plume RGB from GOES-16 for an Antares rocket launch on November 2, 2019 off Virginia.

Antares rocket launch from Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia and the image from 14:02 UTC.


Rocket Plume RGB from GOES-16 for on May 22, 2018 over southern California.

A launch from the Vandenberg on May 22, 2018. Still images at 19:47 and 19:52 UTC.

GOES-S Launch

Rocket Plume RGB from GOES-16 for the GOES-S launch on March 1, 2018.

A CIMSS Satellite Blog post, plus a still image at 22:05 UTC. Note theese meso-scale sectors were a research request.


A GOES-17 example of the Rocket Plume RGB on December 3, 2018 over southern California. Ignore the bad stripe of data in some of the images.

This is a GOES-17 example of a SpaceX launch of Spaceflight SSO-A in late 2018. And a still image from 18:35 UTC.


NOAA GOES-16 and -17 ABI data are via the University of Wisconsin-Madison SSEC Satellite Data Services. These images were made using the geo2grid software, developed at the UW/SSEC. More GOES-16 and -17 imagery and other information, including the SIFT software developed at UW/SSEC to quickly test RGB changes. Thanks also to Todd Beltracchi and T. Garner and S. Bachmeier for their expertise.

Leave a Reply