Until last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) was making do with some fairly ancient weather satellites. The 1990s era hardware wasn’t up to the task of gathering the data scientists want, but the agency deployed the first of its new generation GOES-R satellites in 2016. Earlier this year, a second GOES satellite went into orbit. It has just sent back its first stunning images of Earth, but there are some glitches that keep the system for working at full capacity.
GOES-17 launched on March 2nd of this year aboard a ULA Atlas-V rocket. The spacecraft ascended to an altitude of 22,300 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) just like the previous GOES-16. Both satellites are used to monitor the western hemisphere, but they’re looking at the US from opposite ends. GOES-16 looks down on the Caribbean, Atlantic ocean, and US east coast. The newer GOES-17 sees the west coast of the US, Hawaii, and the Pacific Ocean all the way down to New Zealand. Together, these satellites can keep tabs on all the weather that affects the US.
The first public images from GOES-17 were captured on May 20 via the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). This camera is vastly more powerful than those on older NOAA satellites. In fact, GOES-16 was able to detect wildfires in northern Texas last year before locals could place emergency calls. NOAA alerted local fire departments, which began evacuations. It also monitors cloud cover, fog, and other weather patterns. NOAA is understandably anxious to get more of these advanced satellites in orbit.
The ABI on GOES-17 scans Earth in 16 spectral bands that include visible, infrared, and near-infrared. This gives climate researchers and meteorologists more data with which to build models and predictions. While these first images are stunning, the Advanced Baseline Imager is not performing as expected. The ABI cooling system isn’t working, which degrades the effectiveness of the satellite’s infrared channels.
NOAA says the cooling issue affects 13 of the 16 spectral bands across infrared and near-infrared. NOAA needs these bands to detect cloud movement during the night when the sun isn’t reflecting off them. The agency is working to repair the cooling system, but it hopes to come up with alternate use cases in the event it cannot get the ABI fully up and running.
For the time being, NOAA is still able to use the two visible and one near-infrared channels that aren’t affected to take some neat pictures.
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