WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Meteorologists are getting their first peek at infrared satellite images from the new GOES-17 weather satellite, which launched earlier this year. For scientists, it's like opening a Christmas present in August.
The new satellite has 16 channels -- 2 visible (basically a picture of the planet), 2 near-infrared, and 10 infrared channels that use heat sensors to be able to look at the planet 24/7, even during darkness. . Each channel has a specific purpose in discerning meteorological and environmental features.
However, unlike its twin the GOES-16 which launched last year and is operational over the East Coast, the -17 has a problem with its cooling system that is affecting the infrared sensors' ability to accurately measure the thermal signatures on the planet.
"Infrared imagery is used to monitor aerosols, clouds, thunderstorms, hurricanes, rainfall, moisture, atmospheric motion, and volcanic ash," writes John Leslie with NOAA.
The degraded performance means there will be some hours of the day where not all infrared sensors will be functioning. (The visible and near-infrared channels are not affected.) During the spring and autumn when the satellite's position receives more heat energy from the sun, there will be 2-6 hour outages of half the infrared channels each night.
The good news is, scientists have made some progress in mitigating the effects of the faulty cooling system and now during the summer and winter seasons when the satellite receives less sun energy, they're confident they can run all 16 satellite channels 24/7. Earlier estimates suggested some of the channels would have be down a few hours a night during this period as well. And some of the most critical channels won't be affected by the extra heat.
"Among the channels that are expected to be fully available is the band that is used for fog/cloud identification at night and for fire/hot spot detection, which will be critical for forecasters in the western U.S.," Leslie said.
The limitations are a bummer for sure, but even the hobbled satellite is a significant upgrade from the current GOES-15 satellite maintaining watch over the West Coast. The new satellite has four times the resolution and five times the update rate. Plus it has a new sensor that can detect lightning in real time. The satellite is still on track to be declared operational by this fall.
"While we aren't going to get the full GOES-17 functionality, we're going to receive more and better data than we currently have and we are confident that we will meet the operational needs for the (National) Weather Service," , according to Pam Sullivan, Director of NOAA GOES-R (16) System Program.