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Weather satellite GOES blind.

Weather satellite GOES blind

The GOES West satellite, a key U.S. tool for tracking severe storms, abruptly ceased to transmit weather information to Earth on Jan. 21. Although the satellite exceeded by nine months its five-year life expectancy, the failure leaves the United States temporarily shorthanded for the job of spotting and following such deadly weather phenomena as Atlantic hurricanes, Western winter storms, tornadoes and strong rainstorms that produce flash flooding.

Normally two satellites, GOES West and GOES East, both operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), split the duty of tracking storms over North America and large portions of the Pacific and Atlantic. From an altitude of 22,300 miles, they orbit at precisely the right speed to remain stationed over a particular spot on the rotating globe. Every half-hour the satellites transmit visible and infrared images of cloud cover as well as temperature profiles of the atmosphere. These GOES images are the basis of satellite cloud pictures seen on TV weather forecasts.

NOAA's technical assistant for satellites, Jamison Hawkins, in Suitland, Md., says GOES West went blind because its last backup light bulb burned out. The satellite carried four incandescent bulbs into orbit, and these are essential to the imaging system.

A series of mishaps over the past few years have left NOAA without an immediate replacement for GOES West. Several GOES satellites failed prematurely in the early 1980s, and the agency lost one satellite in 1986 when a Delta rocket carrying the instrument to orbit suffered mechanical problems during liftoff and was subsequently destroyed. The next GOES satellite is not scheduled to be ready for launch until mid-1990.

Until then, NOAA is moving the remaining GOES East to a more central location. While the single satellite will provide images of both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, its coverage will not extend far enough into the oceans. Hawaii, for example, will sit just within the satellite's westernmost range, while the Gulf of Alaska will probably not fit into the coverage. The agency plans to supplement the GOES data with information from European and Japanese satellites as well as from U.S. polar orbiting satellites.
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Title Annotation:GOES West ceases to transmit
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 4, 1989
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