Another Satellite Down -- This One Measures Solar Wind
March 28, 2011 • 9:01AM

The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center reported in January that "due to resource constraints," data from its secondary satellite for monitoring sun and solar wind activity, GOES-11, would no longer be collected and processed, as of Feb. 28, 2011. Major solar activity often is a precursor of earthquake or volcanic eruption. Good timing, Obama!

That brings to three the number of satellites crucial for monitoring solar or earthquake-related activity, which have been shut down, or never launched, in the recent period. The other two are the planned DESDynI radar satellite for monitoring earthquakes and other natural disasters, which was axed by Obama, and the French Demeter ionosphere monitoring satellite, designed to monitor ionosphere and upper atmosphere activity in the vicinity of earthquake zones, shut down in December 2010.

Because of the cutback in the NOAA budget, data from magnetometer and energetic particle detectors, which had been coming from two geosychronous satellites, will come from only one, the GOES-13 at 75 degrees east longitude. The GOES-11, on the opposite side of the Earth at 135 degrees west longitude, will no longer report. Thus, as the Earth turns, precise data accumulation will be restricted to 12 hours of the day. This situation will persist until "around September of this year," NOAA says, when a new GOES satellite is brought from a storage location into the 135 degree West position. The magnetic and energetic particle (mostly protons) data is our principal means of monitoring solar activity.

GOES 11's X-ray sensor, which is the means of detecting solar flares, had already been turned off several years ago. The Fermi and Hesperia satellites partially fill in that gap.