NOAA’s new weather satellite provides stunning first images despite flaw

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Until last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was content with some fairly old weather satellites. Hardware from the 1990s was not up to the task of gathering the data scientists wanted, but the agency deployed the first of its next-generation GOES-R satellites in 2016. Earlier this year, a second GOES satellite entered orbit. He just fired his first great pictures of earthbut there are a few issues that prevent the system from running at full capacity.

GOES-17 was launched on March 2 this year aboard a ULA Atlas-V rocket. The spacecraft climbed 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 look across the United States. GOES-16 overlooks the Caribbean, the Atlantic Ocean and the East Coast of the United States. The new GOES-17 sees the west coast of the United States, Hawaii and the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand. Together, these satellites can keep tabs on all weather conditions affecting the United States.

The first public images of GOES-17 were captured on May 20 via the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). This camera is much more powerful than those of the old NOAA satellites. In fact, GOES-16 was able to detect wildfires in North Texas last year before residents could make emergency calls. NOAA alerted local fire departments, who began evacuations. It also monitors cloud cover, fog, and other weather conditions. NOAA is understandably eager to put more of these advanced satellites into orbit.

The ABI on GOES-17 scans the Earth in 16 spectral bands which include visible, infrared and near infrared. This gives climatologists and meteorologists more data with which to build models and forecasts. Although these first images are stunning, the Advanced Baseline Imager does not work as expected. The ABI cooling system is not working, which degrades the efficiency of the satellite’s infrared channels.

NOAA says the cooling issue affects 13 of 16 infrared and near-infrared spectral bands. NOAA needs these bands to detect the movement of clouds during the night when the sun is not reflecting off them. The agency is working to fix the cooling system, but it hopes to come up with other use cases in case it can’t get the ABI to fully work.

For now, NOAA is still able to use the two visible channels and one near-infrared that are unaffected to take great pictures.

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