Cape Canaveral, FL (Florida Today) -- A satellite critical to trackingtropical storms and hurricanes that threaten Florida is back inoperation after being knocked out by a micrometeorite strike.
That'sgood news at the outset of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season.Forecasters predict 13 to 20 named storms, seven to 11 of which coulddevelop into hurricanes.
Ofthose hurricanes, forecasters with the National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration say three to six will be major storms with winds inexcess of 111 mph.
"Onceagain, NOAA has three healthy geostationary satellites ready and ableto track hurricanes, severe storms, floods and other dangerousconditions," Mary Kicza, an assistant administrator with the NOAA, saidin a statement this week.
NOAAoperates two active GOES (Geostationary Operational EnvironmentalSatellite) spacecraft in orbits 22,300 miles above the planet - one overthe east coast of the United States and one over the nation's westcoast. A third GOES spacecraft is kept in orbital storage and is pressedinto service when need be.
Launchedin May 2006 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the GOES-13satellite had been holding vigil over the East Coast. But an automaticshutdown May 22 sidelined the spacecraft less than two weeks before theJune 1 opening of hurricane season.
TheGOES-13 shutdown occurred when a micrometeorite struck the arm of thesatellite's power-producing solar array, engineers say. The jolt knockedthe satellite off balance, and spacecraft instruments automaticallyturned themselves off.
This"safe mode" is standard operating procedure in satellite flightoperations. It is intended to preclude additional problems while givingengineers time to analyze a situation.
Tocompensate, GOES-14, launched on a Delta IV at Cape Canaveral in June2009, was moved from orbital storage to cover the East Coast whileengineers analyzed the trouble with GOES-13.
GOES-15, launched on a Delta IV at Cape Canaveral in March 2010, currently is watching over the west coast.
Engineerstested GOES-13 spacecraft instruments and systems, and determined thatno damage had been done. So the spacecraft was stabilized and put backinto normal operations this week.
Inthe meantime, the stand-in GOES-14 satellite provided NOAA forecasterswith continuous images and data last week during Tropical Storm Andrea.The storm made landfall in Florida's Big Bend region on June 6 whileGOES-13 was out of service.
The storm tracked over Georgia and South Carolina before weakening over North Carolina and parts of the northeast U.S.
"Ourestablished back-up plan worked," Kicza said. "NOAA forecasterscontinued receiving valuable satellite images and data necessary toissue life-saving warnings for tornadoes and floods."