New malfunctions in US weather satellites could affect forecasts

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The most important instrument aboard a recently deployed state-of-the-art US weather satellite has failed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Wednesday. The satellite in question is part of the GOES-R program of geostationary satellites that orbit above a fixed location on Earth.

The problem: The issue involves an instrument known as the Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, on board the satellite. During the test following the launch of the satellite on March 1, the instrument, which functions as the eyes of the satellite on our planet, showed irregularities.

The details: Specifically, mission controllers have struggled to keep the ABI cool enough to operate properly for six hours of the day, which interferes with its ability to clearly see about a dozen of the 16 infrared channels it is capable of picking up. images.

  • He can see very well during the day, but has trouble keeping tabs on the weather at night, when infrared cameras in space are especially useful.

“This is a serious problem,” Steve Volz, who heads NOAA’s satellite and news service, said in a conference call with media on Wednesday. “We are treating this very seriously with the multi-agency and contractor and technical team to try to understand the anomaly and find ways to start the motors, if you will, of the cooling system to function properly.”

What does that mean: At this time, the malfunction has no impact on weather forecasts in the United States or elsewhere, as NOAA has other satellites in place that are working properly. However, some of them are nearing the end of their lifespan, officials said in a media conference call.

  • Satellite data, particularly measurements of atmospheric wind speed and humidity, are one of the main sources of data for weather computer models. This means that if the problem is not solved, the model projections could suffer.

“That’s obviously not what you want to see. It’s a little heartbreaking to see this happen,” said Tim Walsh, GOES program director at NOAA. Walsh and others said the worst-case scenario involves having a satellite instrument hampered, but not broken.

The new satellite is part of a multi-billion dollar system to improve the accuracy of forecasts for years to come.

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