The main instrument of the GOES-R next-generation satellite constellation wasn’t working before launch but officials sent it into space anyway.
Persistent problems with the premier sensors of the GOES-R series satellites — designed to provide the next generation of weather observation for North America — were identified before launch and not properly tested or resolved, according to a new inspector general report.
Further, the Commerce Department IG found evidence that program managers changed the evaluation criteria for the contractor after the issues were identified—metrics that would have led to a 40-75% reduction in payment had they remained.
The $11 billion GOES-R series of satellites includes GOES-16—launched November 2016—and GOES-17—launched March 2018—as well as the pending GOES-T and GOES-U still in production. The satellite constellation is equipped with a set of next-generation sensors to better predict weather patterns, including the Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, the “most essential instrument for mission success of the GOES-R satellites,” according to the IG.
However, shortly after GOES-17 entered orbit, the cooling system for the ABI instrument malfunctioned, “severely degrading” the amount of data the satellite could collect, NOAA officials said at the time.
“This is a serious problem,” Steve Volz, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, or NESDIS, said during a May 2018 briefing with reporters. “This is the premier Earth-pointing instrument on the GOES platform and the 16 channels … are important elements of our observing requirements.”