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Wednesday, February 13, 2019 1:00 am

Locally made camera passes test

Harris Corp. product part of weather satellite

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday that a weather satellite carrying a Fort Wayne-built camera has passed its test phase and been placed into operation.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 17 is gathering data from above the Pacific Ocean, where many weather systems that affect the United States originate, NOAA said in a news release.

What is now being called the GOES-West was launched last March. Its primary instrument is the Advanced Baseline Imager produced by Harris Corp.'s Fort Wayne plant.

“We are thrilled GOES-17, now GOES-West, has successfully completed its checkout phase and has been declared operational to provide weather monitoring over the western part of the United States,” Harris communications manager Kristin Jones said in an email. 

NOAA reported in May that the imager cooling system was operating at warmer temperatures than it should have been, knocking out three infrared channels for part of each day.

NOAA, NASA and Harris later determined that “foreign object debris” was impeding the flow of coolant through the pipes of cooling systems in two similar satellites that have not been launched.

“It's our best theory for what's going on” with the GOES-17, said Pam Sullivan, a satellite flight program manager for NOAA.

Sullivan said Tuesday in a telephone interview that the foreign object debris appeared to be particles from a metal component of the loop heat pipe in the cooling system.

Troubleshooters were able to boost GOES-17's performance remotely so that the satellite is projected to obtain more than 97 percent of the weather data it was expected to collect.

“The improvements that we've gotten with GOES-17 in orbit are really just sort of optimizing some of the operating parameters for the cooling system and how the detectors operate,” Sullivan said. 

She said the camera's infrared channels are still not working during the warmest times of orbit. The camera is designed to function at minus 314 degrees, but the cooling system glitch has raised temperatures to as high as minus 270 degrees, Sullivan said.

NOAA and its contractors are redesigning the cooling systems of satellites that are in production, Sullivan said.

They are switching the coolant from propylene to ammonia, eliminating filters and changing the coolant flow course.

The three infrared channels, which gauge wind heights and water vapor in the atmosphere, are among 16 channels used by the GOES-17 imager.

NOAA's news release said the GOES-17 will allow weather forecasters to make better predictions on Pacific travel conditions for aircraft and ships, improve the accuracy of fog and cloud formation predictions and upgrade the detection and analysis of wildfires in the western United States. 

bfrancisco@jg.net