NOAA declares GOES-17 operational
By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
The geostationary weather satellite with the latest primary payload developed and built in Fort Wayne for NOAA has become operational, and local engineers are modifying future versions of the Advanced Baseline Imager so they will deliver all the data they are designed to provide.
The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-S became known as GOES-17 after reaching final orbit 22,300 miles above the earth. It was positioned to collect meteorological data and imagery over the northeastern Pacific, where many weather systems start that affect the western United States.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared it operational as the new GOES West satellite Feb. 12 after it completed an orbital test phase for the half-dozen instruments aboard. With operational status, data from the ABI built by Harris Corp. can be used for weather forecasting.\
The satellite was placed in its current position as a replacement for GOES-15, which has been operating as GOES West since December 2011. But, because of technical issues discovered with the ABI during the orbital testing, NOAA said it would operate the two satellites in tandem until early July.
“This overlap will allow for further performance assessment of GOES-17 before GOES-15 is placed in storage as a backup,” it said in a statement. “NOAA has continued working tirelessly to ensure maximum performance from its satellite fleet.
“The GOES-17 ABI is now projected to deliver more than 97 percent of the data it was designed to provide, a testament to the skill and dedication of the engineers and all the GOES project team members,” Stephen Volz, director of the administration’s Satellite and Information Service, said in the statement.
“We are confident the GOES constellation will continue to meet the needs of forecasters across the country,” he said.
NOAA was three months through the satellite’s 6-month check-out phase and had spent about three weeks trying to deal with a cooling system malfunction on its ABI when Volz explained the problem’s significance during a July 30 briefing.
A heat pipe subsystem of a cooling system loop was supposed to transfer heat reliably from the ABI’s electronics to its radiator. But the malfunction prevented it from cooling some infrared channel electronics adequately during parts of the day, which led to partial loss of ABI imagery.
The administration also predicted some seasonal imagery variation, with 13 of 16 channels available around-the-clock during cooler periods near the summer and winter solstice, and the three other channels available for just 20 hours a day.
During warmer periods near the vernal and autumnal equinox, 10 channels would be available around-the-clock; three would be available for just 20 hours a day, and three would be available only 12 hours a day.
Examples of weather products that could be affected by incomplete data from the ABI include products showing cloud temperature and height, derived motion winds and volcanic ash, according to a preliminary estimate in September.
NOAA hoped to improve the estimates through software and algorithm changes along with operating procedure adjustments. It also was looking at other satellite assets to replace what GOES-17 is unable to supply.
A root cause independent review team “has recommended design modifications for the GOES-T and GOES-U ABI to make sure that we do not experience cooling system issues going forward,” Pam Sullivan, system program director for NOAA’s GOES-R Series Program, said in the briefing.
“We will not launch GOES-T and GOES-U until we fully understand and have resolved the problem.”
The team concluded in October the most likely cause of the malfunction was foreign object debris blocking coolant flow in the instrument’s loop heat pipes. The possibility of mechanical failure was investigated but considered unlikely.
Changes the team recommended for ABI radiator design in the GOES-T and GOES-U specified a simpler hardware configuration and the use of ammonia instead of propylene in its loop heat pipes.
A critical design review originally scheduled for December was pushed forward to Feb. 7 and 8, according to a GOES-R program website operated by NOAA and NASA, which provides updates on GOES-17 ABI performance.
“Due to this redesign, the planned launch of GOES-T in mid-2020 has been delayed,” the website said. “Once the new design is approved, NOAA will determine a new launch readiness date for GOES-T.”
An analysis of data from GOES-16, also known as GOES East, has shown some evidence of reduced functionality resulting from the ABI cooling system heat loop pipe in the first satellite of the GOES-R series, Sullivan said.
“However, GOES East continues to perform well and the potential impact of that reduced cooling capacity is not affecting in any way the delivery of observations from GOES-16,” she said.
Despite the cooling system malfunction in GOES-17, even during its checkout phase it was “observing with more channels at a higher resolution and with more rapid refresh than the current GOES West satellite,” Sullivan said last summer.
“While we are not going to get the full GOES-17 functionality, we are going to receive more and better data than we currently have, and we are confident that we will be able to meet the operational needs of the weather service.”
GOES West and GOES East together cover more than half the globe to provide high-resolution visible and infrared imagery and lightening observations from New Zealand to the west coast of Africa and from the Antarctic Circle to near the Arctic Circle.
“GOES-17 is the latest in a series of the most advanced weather satellites which have ever been launched into orbit,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “The latest GOES series of satellites play a critical role protecting the public each day, ensuring better data reaches the forecasters who safeguard countless American lives from weather-related disaster.”
GOES-17’s increased data together with sharper, more precise views of hazardous weather systems over the Pacific Ocean are improving aviation and marine forecasts for travelers crossing it, NOAA said.
As with GOES East, GOES West scans the Earth five times faster than its predecessor at four times the image resolution with three times the spectral bands, including two visible channels, four near-infrared channels and 10 infrared channels.
The better speed and resolution can improve the detection and analysis of wildfires and smoke coverage significantly, to help forecasters find hot spots, detect changes in the behavior of a fire, and predict its movement, the administration said.
GOES-17 also enables forecasters to predict with greater accuracy than before the timing of fog and cloud formation and when it will clear, which NOAA said can help mitigate flight delays caused by those types of ground conditions at airports.