A new space camera designed to watch the sun from its perch aboard an advanced weather satellite has taken its first photograph of our nearest star after a months-long glitch.
The new X-ray solar photo shows the sun mottled with bright, active spots. NASA called the satellite's sensor recovery nothing short of "miraculous" in a recent announcement.
"Frankly, we were down to our last straw when all the teams' hard work and efforts finally paid off," said Andre Dress, GOES N-P deputy project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "We now believe we have a full recovery of the instrument's functionality! It's an incredible story and a true testament of our NASA/contractor teams expertise, hard work and determination."
The camera, called the Solar X-Ray Imager, is riding on the $500 million GOES-15 satellite that launched in March to serve as continuous weather sentinel. The satellite is monitoring the sun for potentially dangerous solar flares and can track hurricanes and other severe weather on Earth.
But the Solar X-Ray Imager suffered a voltage glitch soon after GOES-15 (short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 15) blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on March 4 atop an unmanned rocket.
"Since the early checkout of GOES 15 (P) and the anomalous turn on of the Solar X-Ray Imager, the team has been aggressively pursuing all avenues to recover the instrument," Dress said.
NASA engineers brought the satellite back to full health on June 3 after the months of battling the voltage issue, which threatened to leave the solar camera threatened offline for good.
The first image came on June 2 and scientists declared the instrument completely recovered the next day after monitoring it overnight to make sure it was working continually, a NASA spokesperson with the Goddard center said.
The satellite, formerly known as GOES-P, also managed to take its first visible light image of Earth on April 6 and recorded its first full-disk infrared snapshot on April 26.
Along with three other GOES satellites, the GOES-15 spacecraft forms the latest fleet of instruments to continuously monitor both solar and terrestrial weather conditions. At stake are the satellite-based telecommunications instruments that are the foundation of modern travel, communication, and security.
"I don't think most people realize how important these space weather instruments are in our everyday life," Dress said. "This data is used by the U.S. Department of Defense, NOAA, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in protecting our space assets, land based assets and directing flight paths for the FAA."