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Nifty NOAA Video Highlights GOES-12's Decade of Service

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Aug-2013
Updated: 19-Aug-2013 05:48 PM

The dizzying images of swirling clouds in NOAA's fast-paced video may make you wish you'd taken some Dramamine first, but it is a nifty salute to the GOES-12 weather satellite upon its retirement.

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 12 (GOES-12) was launched in 2001 and served as the "GOES-East" satellite from April 2003-May 2010.   Thruster control issues then relegated it to a secondary status, but it continued to provide coverage of the Southern Hemisphere. 

NOAA created a video using one image from each day of the satellite's life to show the weather patterns it observed over North and South America and the adjacent oceans during those years.  (NOAA says the satellite was in service for 3,788 days, but then says there are 3,641 images, so it is not quite exactly one for each day, but it's close enough.)   Among the major weather events were Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the crippling snowstorm -- Snowmageddon -- in 2009.

The decommissioning process involves boosting GOES-12 into a higher orbit, using up all its fuel, and disabling its batteries and transmitters.  That way it is out of the way of other geostationary satellites, is unlikely to explode and create space debris, and cannot inadvertently transmit signals that cause interference.

NOAA operates companion systems of weather satellites in polar orbit (circling over the North and South poles) and geostationary orbit (35,800 kilometers above the equator where they maintain a stationary position relative to a point on Earth).   Two geostationary satellites are operational at any one time positioned to observe weather over the Eastern (GOES-East) and Western (GOES-West) United States and adjacent waters.  At least one on-orbit spare also usually is available.  Currently, GOES-13 is in the GOES East position, GOES-15 is GOES-West, and GOES-14 is the on-orbit spare.   Troubles with GOES-13 during the past year caused NOAA to bring GOES-14 temporarily into service twice, but the problems were remedied and GOES-13 is operational now.

After 2010 when GOES-12 was providing data only on South America, NOAA called it "GOES-South," the first to have that designation.

NOAA is building a new version of the satellites, the GOES-R series, with the first launch expected in 2015.   (The satellites are designated with letters before launch and redesignated with numbers once in orbit.  GOES-R is the first of the new series, which includes three additional satellites, S, T and U).  NOAA's "fly-out" chart showing when the various GOES satellites are expected to be in service is shown below, current as of April 2013.

NOAA Fly-Out Schedule for GOES Weather Satellites, April 2013.   Source:  NOAA website.


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