Coolant problems found on GOES 17 satellite

Uh-oh, NOAA’s brand new weather satellite is already broken

If GOES-17 doesn't fully come online this fall as planned, it's not like USA weather forecasters will be in the dark-the satellites now covering that portion of the globe are in good shape.

A balky cooling system in the chill of space is throwing the future of the United States's most recent multibillion-dollar weather satellite, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-17 (GOES-17), in doubt, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported today. The satellite was launched by NASA on March 1 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During the "hot part" of the orbit, the temperature rises, and then falls again, so the channels are cooled for only about half of the day.

"We are getting degraded performance on infrared and near-infrared channels, not zero performance, but degraded", Volz said. Three other bands, which operate at visible wavelengths, are not affected by the cooling issue. And the ABI is also critical for providing vertical temperature and moisture profiles, a product that had previously been handled by a separate instrument on older satellites, adds Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"This is a serious problem".

"This is the premier Earth-pointing instrument on the GOES platform, and 16 channels, of which 13 are infrared or near-infrared, are important elements of our observing requirements. It is a performance issue we have to address".

The problem appears to be with a cryocooler unit and associated hardware on the instrument. The agency is working with the contractor behind the ABI, as well as NASA, on efforts to restore the cooling system.

The GOES-R Program is now addressing a performance issue with the cooling system encountered during commissioning of the GOES-17 Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument. Around midnight, at geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator, the sun peers "over the shoulder" of Earth and directly into the ABI's camera.

The Advanced Baseline Imager, seen here, is a multi-spectral camera system aboard the latest generation of GOES weather satellites that provides higher resolution and faster throughput than previous models.

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Remember that awesomely powerful new weather satellite that delivered this really cool lightning-tracking video earlier this week?

But the Advanced Baseline Imager is the star of the show, and its infrared imagery is critical to forecasters.

"The worst-case scenario does not mean we don't have any channels in infrared", Volz said.

NOAA stresses that three other GOES satellites in orbit, including GOES-16 launched in 2016, are healthy and meeting forecasting needs. "We're going to have to take some time to evaluate what would be the impact of this", said Joe Pica, director of the office of observations at the National Weather Service.

The next satellite in the series, GOES-T, is slated to be ready for launch in 2020. However, repairs are expected to take at least a few months, partly because the GOES-17 is 22,000 miles above the Earth.

According to NOAA's release, the agency is investigating the source of the cooling problem and hoping it can find some sort of fix that improves the system's performance. "At this point it's premature to say where or how we would change that launch date".

NOAA officials remain optimistic that although a diagnosis and remedy will not be found "overnight", in the next several months some type of solution will be found. Sullivan said the experts on her team have "lots of ideas" and are being "creative about recovering ABI fully or as much as possible". "People have dug in".

"It's obviously not what you want to see", Volz said. "It's never as bad as it looks the first time you see it, and we're certainly ready to maximize performance of the system even given the compromise that we're seeing right now".

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