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Why NOAA-17 was put to sleep

polar orbit diagram

If NOAA-17 will remain in orbit for centuries to come, why pull the plug now? NASA brochure.)

A reader questioned what led to the retirement of one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s longest-serving satellites that FCW covered on April 12. The reader wrote: "There was nothing in the article as to why NOAA-17 was actually retired. Yes it is old and beyond its life expectancy, but was it still providing reliable and useful data? It appeared that it would stay in its orbit for many more decades, so if it was still operational one has to wonder why they retired it. I would like to see that addressed in the article."

Frank Konkel responds: NOAA-17 operated for far longer than satellites like it are supposed to live, but it was no longer working properly when the agency began to deactivate it on Feb. 18. At the time, its sister polar-orbiting satellites -- NOAA-15, NOAA-16, NOAA-18, NOAA-19 and the newest, Suomi NPP -- were all still collecting and sending vital weather information back to computers on land that help NOAA forecast the weather. NOAA-17 was not, which is why NOAA officials made the decision to “pull the plug.”

Rest assured, though, that NOAA is doing all it can to keep its existing polar-orbiting satellites operating as long as possible, and not only to make the most of past investments. The agency faces a huge risk if other satellites fail before 2017, when the newest of the next-generation polar-orbiting satellites under the Joint Polar Satellite System program is finally launched. Every satellite that dies before the JPSS-1 launch brings the agency charged with forecasting the weather one step closer to a gap in weather data.

Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:10 PM


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