A New U.S. Weather Satellite Faces a Major Malfunction Just Months After Launch

Wednesday, 23 May 2018 - 5:38PM
Technology
Earth
Wednesday, 23 May 2018 - 5:38PM
A New U.S. Weather Satellite Faces a Major Malfunction Just Months After Launch
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Lockheed Martin
When a satellite is supposed to last for 15 years, it's more than a little frustration when it starts breaking down less than three months into its mission.

This frustration is likely going around the offices of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) right now, due to the GOES-17 weather satellite that launched at the very beginning of March 2018. It's already running into some unforeseen problems, and while it's nothing severe enough to lead to falling space debris, it could severely cut into the satellite's usefulness.

According to an NOAA statement, GOES-17 is facing "a performance issue with the cooling system" which failed to start up properly. As a part of the satellite's Advanced Baseline Imager (or "ABI", and we apologize for throwing so many acronyms at you), this means the satellite can no longer take infrared or near-infrared photos of the Earth.



The ABI handles visible light photos too, but it thankfully hasn't lost that feature during the malfunction. But it needs to stay cooled to use more precise instruments like infrared, and if the satellite heats to over -350 degrees Fahrenheit (-212 degrees Celsius), it can't use them properly. Without a cooling system, there's no way to get those instruments up and running.

GOES (short for "Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite") has been a large project undertaken by the NOAA, using widespread array of satellites to help with weather forecasting, storm tracking, and general meteorology matters. In order to keep the project operating at maximum efficiency, new GOES satellites are frequently introduced to take the place of older ones.

That was supposed to be the purpose of GOES-17, which would fill into the "GOES-WEST" portion of the satellite network which covers the United States' West Coast. There's little chance of that now, and the previous GOES-15 satellite has resumed that position while GOES-16 is handling the nearby GOES-EAST spot.



Both NOAA and NASA are both investigating to see if there's a possible fix, but they seem ready to accept that there may not be a simple solution. If that happens, they'll start brainstorming new ways to get some use out of the poor satellite.

But with all the space debris currently floating through Earth's orbit, we may have another piece of clutter up there if this doesn't get fixed.
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