GOES-East Fails for Second Time in One Year

By , Expert Senior Meteorologist
May 23, 2013; 9:37 AM ET
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NOAA rendering of GOES-13 is not to scale.

One of the main satellites meteorologists use for the eastern part of the United States and the tropical Atlantic Ocean failed late Tuesday, May 21, 2013, EDT.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operating geostationary satellite, known as GOES-East (GOES-13 and GOES-N), experienced trouble with its imaging equipment.

Engineers were working on repairing the imager, via software updates, but were unsuccessful as of Wednesday midday. As a result GOES-13 was being placed in storage mode.

As an immediate, but marginal solution to the problem, a satellite based over the Pacific Ocean, GOES-15, which also is the main satellite for the western U.S. will take full-disc images of the Earth.

The satellite coverage from GOES-15 results in distorted images of the eastern U.S. and the western Atlantic and would be a significant concern for forecasters and the public at large going into the Atlantic hurricane season.

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NOAA is reactivating another satellite, GOES-14.

During September 2012, when GOES-13 experienced a similar problem, GOES 14 was activated and data was retransmitted over GOES-13.

This meant that government and private sector users of the satellite data did not have to adjust their receivers (dishes). However, GOES-14 data will not be forwarded to the GOES-13 platform this time and users will have to reconfigure their antennas.

Impact on computer models, which use the data from GOES-13, should also be short-lived, as GOES-14 takes over.

A greater concern would be if GOES-14 should experience a problem, since there would be a much more limited choice of options, possibly extending to foreign satellite coverage. The next U.S. based geostationary satellite, yet to be launched is slated for use over the western U.S. and eastern Pacific.

The geostationary satellites orbit the Earth at the same speed of the Earth's rotation which allows them to stay in one position over the globe.

Computer model data relies more on polar-orbiting satellites, and impact on the models would likely be slight.

However, these polar-orbiting satellites only pass over the tropics at brief intervals and there is the potential for some loss of data should the GOES-13 imager be out permanently and GOES-14 experiences problems.

According to NOAA's Office of Satellite and Product Operations, GOES satellites constantly monitor severe thunderstorms, wildfires, flooding rainfall and hurricanes and are key instruments for meteorologists to provide watches and warnings for these dangerous weather phenomena.

It could take several weeks before GOES-14 to be moved into optimal position for coverage of the Western Atlantic Basin with the approach of the hurricane season. AccuWeather.com meteorologists suspect that a tropical system may form in the neighborhood of the Gulf of Mexico during the first part of June.

GOES-13, the first of three new generation satellites, experienced multiple failed launch attempts during the middle of the last decade. The craft was successfully put into orbit on May 24, 2006, and was designed to be in operation for 10 years.

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