FLORIDA, United States, Monday May 27, 2013 – Just as what is predicted to be a very active hurricane season is about to start, a key satellite positioned to track severe weather in the eastern United States and off the US Atlantic coast has failed.
In a status report on its website on Friday, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it had activated a spare satellite, which will provide coverage of the East Coast, while it tries to fix the faulty satellite.
The report noted that “There is no estimate on return to operations at this time”.
NOAA’s three current Boeing-built Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) were designed to last 10 years. The failed satellite, GOES-13, was launched in 2006 and was sidelined for about three weeks last year by another problem.
The agency typically operates two GOES satellites over the United States, overlooking the East and West coasts, plus one on-orbit spare.
The satellites are outfitted with imagers to watch for clouds and developing storms, atmospheric sounders to measure temperatures and humidity, and other instruments.
NOAA status reports indicate that the first sign of trouble with GOES-13, the primary East Coast satellite, surfaced late on Wednesday when it failed to relay expected images. GOES-13 is located over 75 degrees west longitude.
The activated spare remains in its storage orbit at 105 degrees west. Data received from that spare and a European satellite will give weather forecasters a full view of the Atlantic Ocean.
Should a second GOES fail, NOAA would operate its remaining satellite in a different mode to get a full view of the United States every half-hour. In this scenario, the agency would also depend more on supplemental information relayed by polar orbiting weather satellites.
As efforts continue to troubleshoot the failed satellite, NOAA has no immediate plans to move its spare GOES east.
The agency also has an older GOES-12 satellite, launched in 2001, located at 60 degrees west that provides coverage of South America.
The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1, continuing through the end of November, and NOAA’s Climate Prediction Centre has warned that this year’s season is likely to be “extremely active,” with 13 to 20 tropical storms and seven to 11 of those strengthening into hurricanes.