NOAA’s newest GOES 17 weather satellite may not be fixable, and a loss
From NOAA and NextGov reports.
The second satellite in NOAA’s $11 billion GOES program continues to experience issues with its most important instrument and officials still aren’t sure what’s wrong.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s newest weather satellite—part of the $11 billion Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite constellation set to operate for the next 20 years—is broken and officials still aren’t sure what’s wrong or how to fix it.
NOAA officials identified cooling issues with the satellite’s primary instrument in May. Due to the cooling failure, infrared and near-infrared imaging was only possible 12 hours per day. The issue affects 13 of the infrared and near-infrared channels on the instrument. Depending on sun’s position, as many as six channels will only be able to work part-time. Other instruments aboard have not been affected.
Officials told reporters Tuesday that two review teams consisting of NOAA, NASA and industry personnel continue to investigate what’s wrong with the Advanced Baseline Imager instrument and how to mitigate the loss to ensure weather forecasters on the ground continue to get high-quality satellite data.
In the meantime, GOES-17 remains in a holding pattern orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, and the launch dates of two future GOES satellites, the next of which is scheduled for 2020, could be pushed back if experts and engineers aren’t able to figure out what went wrong with the older sibling satellite.
“There’s no doubt that the problems we are experiencing with the cooling system are disappointing and not what we expected of GOES-17 when we launched,” said Steve Volz, assistant administrator for NOAA’s satellite and information service. “But we are committed to getting this right, and we will figure out what happened on [GOES-17] so it doesn’t happen with our other GOES satellites.”
Pam Sullivan, the GOES-R program director, said the loss in functionality has been traced to a loop heat pipe, an integral part of the Advanced Baseline Imager’s cooling system. The pipe carries a coolant called propylene and helps keep the instrument at its optimal temperature of -350 degrees Fahrenheit.
The pipe was made by Northrop Grumman, Sullivan said, and the company is working with officials on the ground to further investigate. The investigation suggests the most likely causes are mechanical damage to the pipe, an issue with gas inside the pipe or potentially foreign object debris, but no conclusion has been made. Tests could take up to three months, Sullivan said, and will eventually involve the manufacturer of the Advanced Baseline Imager, Harris Corp.
This fact sheet (PDF) explains more about the loop heat pipe issue.
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