GOES 13 – “I’m Baaaack!” Weather Satellite Returns From Dark, Cold Place

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Who could’ve guessed that after sending corrupted images back to Earth and being swapped out for GOES 15 and then GOES 14, that we would be welcoming back to service GOES 13. But we are. After only three weeks, the problems with the ailing weather satellite have been addressed and, beginning today, the six-and-a-half-year old orbiting (geostationary orbit, that is) platform of weather sensors has returned to active duty.

“They said it couldn’t be done!” That’s one of my dad’s favorite phrases. Whether it was a come-from-behind win for the Pittsburgh Pirates, an A on my high school Spanish test or now, it would appear, the return of a down-for-the-count weather satellite orbiting nearly 22,300 miles above the surface of the Earth. NASA blames the problem on “aging lubricant,” and whatever fix NASA applied (from Earth, mind you) had to be something special because the Maytag Repairman no longer makes house calls. Just the same, I find it odd that, considering the satellite was only barely past the halfway point in its 10-year mission, a problem described as aging lubricant causes such a sophisticated and monstrously expensive piece of gear to nearly grind to a halt.

Artist’s rendering of a GOES platform in orbit above Earth. Image: NOAA

No matter. We’ve dodged a bullet, and for this we can thank NASA for whatever it is they did. Without GOES 13, we were down to an empty bench. Starters GOES 14 and GOES 15 were (and are) doing fine, but they weren’t optimally placed to provide ideal coverage of the eastern United States and the Atlantic and with GOES 14 active there was/is no other backup. Without GOES 13 there were definite gaps in coverage of the Tropics and its continuing absence would be an ongoing and significant sore spot with meteorologists and others. With 13 back in the lineup as GOES East, 14 now returns to the bullpen, and 15 continues as GOES West monitoring the western U.S. and Pacific.

If you’re like me, perhaps you’re wondering now if “aging lubricant” might plague our other satellites. That shouldn’t be quite the case here. I enjoy watching Formula 1 car racing and know that when one of two identically prepared cars develops, for instance, transmission problems, it’s immediately a concern for the other car. Fortunately our weather satellites are not constructed side by side, though 13 and 14 were both manufactured by Boeing (14 lists ITT as a co-contractor). Like all technology, newer weather satellite platforms have the advantage of newer technology and that’s the case with GOES 14 being three years newer (by launch date). GOES 15 has even more new technology and, when it was launched in 2010, it was heralded as the next generation in weather satellite technology. Let’s just hope the contractors didn’t dip into the same vat of lubricant for all three satellites.

Welcome back GOES 13. We’re glad you’ve returned to the game.

YourWeatherBlog wrote about the GOES 13 problems last month, and you can read that article here. We also wrote about the new GOES 15, and can also read about some of the funding problems with our satellite program here.

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