Replacement Weather Satellite for GOES East

September 28, 2012; 2:58 AM ET
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This composite satellite image from Sunday shows a lack of data from GOES-13 over the east coast of the U.S. (CIMSS Satellite Blog)

Like the National Football League referee situation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is utilizing the temporary replacement technique.

In the case of NOAA the loss is due to an equipment failure and not the loss of critical personnel.

A major weather satellite operated by the U.S. government to monitor the east coast of the U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean has gone dark due to technical issues.

The failure of GOES-13 (GOES-East) satellite has left a gap for meteorologists trying to catch a view of the eastern Atlantic and has satellite coverage of the Atlantic Ocean and eastern North America spread a bit thin.

Fortunately, NOAA had a backup plan in place and the outage has occurred during a somewhat quiet time in the tropical Atlantic.

GOES-14 was activated and repositioned on Monday to fill part of the void left to satellite imagery in eastern North America and the Atlantic.

Normally, this wide shot of the Atlantic would cover all the way to the Africa and Europe coasts.

While better than nothing, the substitute is not perfect. Images on the eastern edge of view, over the eastern Atlantic, are distorted because of the position of the temporary replacement satellite farther west.

Other satellites of the eastern Atlantic are available, such as the European-operated METEOSAT. However, the lack of a single satellite covering the entire Atlantic basin makes the tracking of all the systems within the basin at the same time more difficult.

The U.S also has polar orbiting satellites. However, the images are rather narrow and not continuous, like the GOES, geostationary satellites.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed Monday that GOES-13 has been placed in stand-by mode, following increased vibrations, or "noise," observed in imagery over the past couple of days.

Stand-by mode means the satellite has basically been taken offline until problems are resolved.

Launched in 2006, GOES-13 went operational in 2010 and was expected to remain in service for several more years.

The vibrations were severe enough that data collection and imagery was returning to Earth significantly degraded over the past couple of days.

NOAA engineers are currently working on a solution to correct the problem with GOES-13 from the ground and have no timetable for return of data collection.

Should GOES-14 fail during the GOES-13 outage, more substantial gaps in satellite data are possible over the U.S.

Earlier this year, in March, GOES-15 (GOES-West) was out of action for several days and it was GOES-13 that had to be repositioned to fill part of the gap. The result was distorted images on part of the Pacific Basin for a time.

Launch of the first of a new generation of weather satellites, known as the GOES-R series, is not scheduled to begin until 2015. The new fleet of satellites, of which GOES-14 is a stepping stone, will have high resolution and will be able to take pictures much more often.

Satellite images and loops are available for free at

Meteorologists Bill Deger and Alex Sosnowski contributed to the content of this story.


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