Good News! GOES-17 Problem Not As Bad As Feared

July 24, 2018

6pm Tuesday

It appears what could have been a major problem for future West Coast satellite imagery has been turned into a minor issue…we hope.

The first of a new series of advanced geostationary weather satellites was launched last year.  It was named GOES-16.  After a period of testing, it was moved into the GOES-EAST position off the USA east coast last December.  These new satellites have far greater temporal and spatial resolution, plus a bunch of new sensors with new capabilities.

In early March a sister satellite, GOES-17 was launched.  The plan is for a few months of testing and checkout, then a move to the GOES-WEST position off the West Coast this fall.

But once the satellite was launched, engineers discovered a huge anomaly.  The ABI (Advanced Baseline Imager) has a “cooling problem”.  It’s similar to a radiator not working properly and allowing your car engine to overheat.  In May NOAA/NASA announced the Infrared imagery could possibly be unusable for half the day.  Specifically at night when the sun is behind the earth and looking directly into the imager.  Bad news!

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Keep in mind that GOES-15 continues to operate faithfully in the GOES-WEST position.  But there has been a real possibility that the western half of the USA could be left without a new/advanced satellite for another 2-3 years.

All has been quiet for two months but just today NOAA/NASA announced via a teleconference that things are looking better.  Specifically, through lots of tweaks, software changes & hard work:

  1. 13 of the 16 sensing channels on the ABI should be available 24 hours a day during the solstice periods (summer & winter).  The other 3 channels should work at least 20 hours of the day during these times.
  2. 10 of 16 channels should work correctly 24 hours a day during the equinox periods (early spring and early fall).
  3. This only affects IR and near-IR imagery
  4. All visible & water vapor imagery is unaffected (good)

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Again, this doesn’t affect many of the sensors, including the new Global Lightning Mapper instrument:

You may wonder why it would be different depending on the season?  It turns out the sensor runs “coolest” during the solstice times (June & December) when the sun is not pointing directly at the sensor during the night.  Near each equinox the sensor more easily overheats with too much incoming solar radiation pointing directly at it from behind the earth.

It was also revealed at the press conference today that GOES-16 has experienced a much smaller version of this same problem.  Luckily it hasn’t impacted performance on that satellite so far.

Due to these issues, most likely GOES-S & GOES-T will likely be delayed as engineers try to fix the cooling issues before launch.  They were scheduled to be launched beginning in 2020.

The best news?  Barring any further problems, GOES-17 will make the move westward this fall and be in place at 137W longitude for this coming storm season.  It will be renamed GOES-WEST at that time.

It’s probably too early, but I’ll say WHEW!…for now.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen