New US weather satellite can’t keep cool, could hurt photos

US is scrambling to fix a ‘serious’ cooling problem on its $350 MILLION weather satellite that could make its photos of Earth useless

  • The GOES-17 satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on March 1
  • It is one of a constellation of craft that provide advanced weather forecasting
  • The issue is with the craft’s main instrument for monitoring natural disasters
  • Officials expect it will take at least a few months to figure out what went wrong
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A $350 Million (£260m) weather satellite, launched less than three months ago, has a serious cooling problem that could make its photos of Earth useless.

The GOES-17 satellite’s instrument for taking images of hurricanes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions is now malfunctioning, experts say.

Its infrared sensors aren’t cooling properly, meaning they won’t work when the satellite is on the night side of the Earth and directly exposed to the sun’s rays. 

Experts are scrambling to establish the cause of the problem to fix it, anticipating this will take at least several months.

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A brand new weather satellite (artist’s impression) has a serious cooling problem that could affect the quality of its pictures. The trouble is with the GOES-17 satellite’s (artist’s impresson pictured) primary instrument for taking images of hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) officials are currently working on the problem with the GOES-17 satellite, launched in March from Cape Canaveral. 

‘As you can imagine, doing this remotely from 22,000 miles (35,000 km) below only looking at the on-orbit data is a challenge,’ said Steve Volz, head of NOAA’s satellite and information service.  

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver has so far built two Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES). 

It is building two more for NOAA under a $1.4 billion (£1bn) contract NASA signed in 2008 to replace outdated craft already in orbit.

Together, the four Lockheed-built satellites will keep watch on US coastlines through 2036 at a cost of around $11 billion (£8.24 billion) to NOAA. 


Infrared sensors on the craft (pictured) aren’t cooling properly, meaning they won’t work when t directly exposed to the sun’s rays. Experts are scrambling to establish the cause of the problem to fix it, anticipating this will take at least several months

Dr Volz told reporters the trouble with the second satellite, GOES-17, was discovered three weeks ago during the satellite’s routine checkout in orbit.

‘This is a serious problem,’ he said. The infrared channels ‘are important elements of our observing requirement, and if they are not functioning fully, it is a loss.’

The problem is with 13 of the 14 channels in the infrared and near infrared, which are meant to operate at around -350°F (-200°C).

The imager’s cooling system, which uses propolyne, is not maintaining that frigid temperature during the warmer part of each orbit, and so the channels aren’t working well about half the time.

The two channels operating in the visible light spectrum are unaffected. 


The GOES-S satellite, which became GOES-17, thundered toward orbit above Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard an Atlas V rocket, slicing through a hazy late afternoon sky on March 1 (pictured) 

WHAT IS THE GEOSTATIONARY OPERATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL SATELLITE PROGRAM?

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Program (GOES) is a joint effort of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

NOAA’s operational GOES-S geostationary constellation is made up of – GOES-16, operating as GOES-East, GOES-15, operating as GOES-West and GOES-14, operating as the on-orbit spare. GOES-17 is exected to be fully operational by the end of the year.

The GOES-R series will maintain the two-satellite system implemented by the current GOES series. 

However, the locations of the operational GOES-R satellites will be 75 degrees west longitude and 137 degrees west longitude. 

The latter is a shift in order to eliminate conflicts with other satellite systems. 

The GOES-R series operational lifetime extends through December 2036.

These spacecraft help meteorologists observe and predict local weather events, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, fog, hurricanes, flash floods and other severe weather. 

In addition, GOES observations have proven helpful in monitoring dust storms, volcanic eruptions and forest fires.

The benefits that directly enhance the quality of human life and protection of Earth’s environment include: 

  • Supporting the search-and-rescue satellite aided system (SARSAT)
  • Contributing to the development of worldwide environmental warning services and enhancements of basic environmental services
  • Improving the capability for forecasting and providing real-time warning of solar disturbances
  • Providing data that may be used to extend knowledge and understanding of the atmosphere and its processes

The next series of GOES satellites includes GOES-R, S, T and U.

An identical imager on the GOES-16 satellite, launched in 2016, has been operating perfectly. 

So have similar imagers on a pair of Japanese weather satellites. The imagers are built by Harris, based near Cape Canaveral.

These types of satellite help meteorologists observe and predict weather events, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, fog, flash floods and other severe weather.

Launched in November 2016, GOES-R, known as GOES-16 once in orbit, monitors the Atlantic and East Coast.

GOES-S, now known as GOES-17, is intended to provide the same sophisticated coverage for the western U.S. and Pacific region.

Two more are planned in this four-satellite series: GOES-T in 2020, which would become GOES-18 in orbit, and GOES-U, which would become GOES-19 in orbit, in 2024. 

GOES-16 previously stunned meteorologists with its astonishingly fast, crisp images of last summer’s flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and then of Hurricanes Irma and Maria as the massive storms approached the Caribbean and U.S.


GOES-S (pictured at launch) is the second satellite in the approximately $11 billion (£8.24 billion) effort that’s already revolutionising forecasting with astonishingly fast, crisp images of hurricanes, wildfires, floods, mudslides and other natural calamities. 


Experts are scrambling to understand what went wrong with the satelitted and how to fix it, and officials expect it will take at least a few months to figure out. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying the payload

GOES-16, has been monitoring the Atlantic and East Coast for the past year for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Besides the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, GOES-17 also will keep watch over Mexico and Central America.

With these two new satellites, NOAA’s high-definition coverage will stretch from the Atlantic near West Africa, a hotbed for hurricane formation, all the way across the U.S. and the Pacific out to New Zealand.

These next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, or GOES, are ‘a quantum leap above’ the federal agency’s previous weather sentinels, Dr Volz said. 

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