NOAA’s low hanging problem–Part 2

I mentioned yesterday two sites had reported about the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) urgency to build a replacement satellite.  This urgency was established in an Independent Review Team (IRT) report produced on November 8 of this year.  I have a link to a copy of the IRT report here.  But it probably wouldn’t hurt to go back a year and read the IRT’s July 2012 report, if you are so inclined.  The 2012 report is the one which lists all sorts of problems with the NOAA’s JPSS programsHere’s the link for that one.

But let’s get back to the urgency.  It seems according to the November 2013 IRT most of the sun-synchronous low earth orbiting satellites suddenly stop working in 2014.  This isn’t because they are broken, but because they’re working way beyond their mission life estimates.  Almost every NOAA satellite on that bar chart on page 14 of the IRT report initially was given a 2-year mission life estimate.  The last of those NOAA satellites, NOAA-19, was launched in 2009.  This is good evidence the American taxpayer is getting a lot more of their money’s worth on each one of the satellites listed on the chart.  It’s also a great example of how well American companies build these satellites.  Very good, right?

But the bad part is you never know when a component might start to degrade on these satellites.  There are some computer applications with algorithms available to help forecast possible satellite component failure.  Some, from what I understand, can be fairly accurate.  If you’ll remember or read my lessons about subsystems in satellites, you’ll understand satellites are very complicated with lots of components.  You probably already knew that.  And of course you’d expect the owners of these satellites to keep track of the satellite’s health.  Which they do.  Below is the status board for NOAA-16.

Click on image to get to the "real" page (and embiggen).
Click on image to get to the “real” page (and to embiggen).

And those are just the major portions of the systems.  Notice how some subsystem labels are hyperlinks?  Those hyperlinks bring up the status of every sub-part of the subsystems listed above.  So let’s pretend you’re curious about the Orange status and you’ve clicked on the ADACS link (which they’ve nicely spelled out for you in the column next to it as the “Attitude Determination And Control System”).  Clicking on the link brings up the screen below.

Click on image to get to the "real" sub-system status page (and for embiggening).
Click on image to get to the “real” sub-system status page (and for embiggening).

And now you know why the ADACS is orange (which means it works, but with some problems).  Gyro 1 is Red (not working at all) and Gyro 3 is Yellow (it has some issues, but functions).  If you had the opportunity to ask NOAA why Gyro 1 was red, I’m sure a very knowledgeable and excited spacecraft engineer would tell you the reasons in excruciating detail (if allowed).  For sanity’s sake, though, I won’t go into those details with you (plus, I didn’t work on these birds, so I don’t know the reasons).

As you can see, everything else on the ADACS sub-system status board is green.  I don’t know how NOAA “weighs” these colors to determine the overall color status, but this kind of “color logic” extends throughout their system status reporting, from the lowliest components you see here, to overall satellite status.

There!  You have a general ideal of how NOAA report the operational status of their satellites and sub-systems.  It’s also quite likely you are seeing a decent representation of what NOAA’s spacecraft operators are seeing on their ground system terminals when talking back and forth with the satellites.

You can decipher colors and you can read — congratulations, you’re a space operator (you might be surprised at how many people, especially director-types, just get these basics wrong)!  More about NOAA’s polar systems and issues next round.

14 thoughts on “NOAA’s low hanging problem–Part 2

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