GOES-17 satellite bounces back from glitch while monitoring California wildfires

GOES-17 recovered from a glitch that appeared July 22 in less than 24 hours and has been hard at work observing wildfires on Earth.
GOES-17 recovered from a glitch that appeared July 22 in less than 24 hours and has been hard at work observing wildfires on Earth. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

A weather satellite has recovered from a brief anomaly and is back to studying Earth and its ongoing wildfires. 

GOES-17 (Geostationary Orbital Environmental Satellite 17), an Earth-monitoring satellite operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), suffered an anomaly on July 22, according to a NOAA statement. The anomaly, thought to be the result of a computer malfunction, caused the satellite to enter a "safe mode" for 22 hours while engineers worked "tirelessly" to address the issue and return GOES-17 to normal operations, NOAA officials said. 

"NOAA's GOES-17 is out of safe-hold mode and engineers expect its six instruments to return to normal operations soon," NOAA said in a July 23 statement after the team addressed the situation. "The probable cause of yesterday's anomaly appears to be a memory bit error in the spacecraft computer. The engineering team says the computer has been responding correctly to commands." 

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After exiting safe mode on July 23, two instruments on board GOES-17 — the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) and magnetometer —  were restored and operational and the rest of the satellite's instruments came back online later on that same day.

"The team expects some minor, short-term data quality issues while the instruments are being recalibrated, but GOES-17 is on track for a full recovery with no lasting effects to the satellite," the July 23 statement read. 

Since getting back online in less than 24 hours, GOES-17 has been hard at work keeping a close eye on Earth as wildfires continue to rage around the globe. 

"Numerous #wildfires across Canada and the western U.S. are spewing out so much #smoke that it now covers much of the sky in both nations, seen here from @NOAA's #GOES17 this afternoon. More than 90 large wildfires are actively burning across 12 states in the U.S," a tweet from NOAA today (Aug. 2) reads. 

On Sunday (Aug. 1), the satellite was observing Northern California, collecting data about both the McFarland wildfire, which started by a lightning strike last Thursday (July 29) and has so far burned over 2,000 acres, and the Dixie wildfire that has now stretched to more than 248,000 acres. 

This is not the first time that GOES-17, which launched in 2018, has faced issues in orbit. In 2019, the satellite suffered a problem with the Advanced Baseline Imager instrument caused by a blockage in a system that is used to keep the probe cool. An investigation showed that the issue stemmed from a failure within the satellite's radiator and temperature control system, according to a report from SpaceNews at the time.

However, with these observations, GOES-17 appears to be back to its full operational status, and NOAA has not pointed to any additional issues or problems related to or following the short-lived anomaly.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.