NOAA retires polar-orbiting satellite

Satellite exceeded anticipated lifespan by eight years


April 10, 2013

After nearly 11 years of helping the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predict weather and climate patterns and save lives in search and rescue operations, NOAA announced today it has turned off the NOAA-17 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite (POES). It was one of NOAA’s longest operating spacecraft, which have a typical lifespan of three years. The shutdown will result in no data gap, as NOAA-17 was being used as a back-up satellite and was removed from service after several key systems on board became inoperable.

NOAA will continue operating several POES spacecraft – NOAA-15, NOAA-16, NOAA-18 and NOAA-19 – in addition to the nation’s newest polar-orbiting satellite, Suomi NPP, launched October 28, 2011. NOAA’s POES spacecraft fly a lower, pole to pole orbit capturing atmospheric data from space that feed NOAA’s weather and climate prediction models.

NOAA began the deactivation process of NOAA-17 on February 18, with the final shut down occurring today. Launched in June 2002, NOAA-17 made 55,000 orbits of the globe, traveling more than 1.5 billion miles while collecting huge amounts of valuable temperature, moisture and image data.

“NOAA-17 helped our forecasters see the early development of severe weather from tornadoes and snow storms to hurricanes, including the busiest hurricane season on record – 2005. It also tracked subtle changes in the environment that signaled the onset of drought and wildfire conditions,” said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. “NOAA-17’s long life is a credit to the engineers who built and operated it and the technology that sustained it. Although we say farewell to NOAA-17, we still operate a dependable fleet of satellites that continue to provide crucial data.”

NOAA-17 was part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) network of satellites. SARSAT, which began in 1982, has rescued more than 33,000 people worldwide, including more than 7,000 in the United States and its surrounding waters by detecting distress signals from emergency beacons.

Deactivating NOAA-17 also heralds a significant change for polar-orbiting satellite operations worldwide with NOAA now exclusively flying afternoon orbit spacecraft while its key international partner, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), flies mid-morning orbit spacecraft. This results in significant savings for U.S. taxpayers, because sharing data helps produce more accurate and uniform data for forecasters. Through the Initial Joint Polar System agreement, NOAA and EUMETSAT established a shared satellite system by exchanging instruments and coordinating the operations of their polar-orbiting satellites to provide operational meteorological and environmental forecasting and global climate monitoring services worldwide.

NOAA and its partners at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are continuing to build the next generation of polar-orbiting satellites, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which is scheduled to launch the JPSS-1 satellite in 2017.

NOAA’s JPSS represents significant technological and scientific advances for more accurate weather forecasting, helping build a Weather Ready Nation – saving lives and property, while promoting economic prosperity. JPSS provides continuity for critical observations of our vast atmosphere, oceans, land, and cryosphere – the frozen areas of the above planet. NOAA, working in partnership with NASA, ensures an unbroken series of global data for monitoring and forecasting environmental phenomena and understanding our Earth.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.


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Rhoda Klapp

Any eleven-year arctic temp data? Antarctic?


11 years. Wow.
Rest well, good and faithful servant.

timothy sorenson

Wonder if it is in the 25 year, decay and burnup group or if they will push it up to a parking orbit.


Don’t know where to put this. Thought you all might be interested.

So, there are some temp data sets out that include the Arctic and Antarctic. Is this correct?


which have a typical lifespan of three years………

Ben D.

“NOAA will continue operating several POES spacecraft – NOAA-15, NOAA-16, ,…..”
NOAA-15 (K) Launch Date: May 13, 1998
NOAA-16 (L) Launch Date: September 21, 2000
NOAA-17 (M) Launch Date: June 24, 2002
NOAA-17 can be considered to have ‘died’ relatively early.


The article referred by Juice is interesting, though we would really need far more details of the original and revised PDSI results over the 58 year period. Most interesting would be the variability year by year, and how does the recent drop compare with previous changes. Is it USA only or world-wide – USA only I presume as I doubt that there are many countries with the necessary data base.
And why, when I see “climate scientist” do I have an uncomfortable feeling of “blinkered fixed agenda”?.


Latitude says:
April 10, 2013 at 11:28 am
which have a typical lifespan of three years………
The NOAA satellites are cheap low orbit single purpose systems. The sentence is a bit wonky though. It probably should have read ” … which are typically are designed to last three years …”. That means there is a 99.99998% chance of the bird lasting 3 years.


Lifespan of most satellites is set by how long the attitude adjustment and maneuver fuel lasts. May be this one just got a very good orbit.

Steve C

I’ve missed NOAA 17 since they turned off the VHF signal after the bearings started seizing up a few years ago. It leaves a shonking great gap in the mornings, I feel rather sorry for it, if ‘sorrow’ is the right word for one’s relations with a chunk of (somebody else’s) technology. Thanks, 17.
Does anyone know whether they’re getting anywhere with the lower-resolution digital transmissions which I believe are planned to replace the POES’ analogue signals? Last I heard, they’d sent one digibird up, but the digital transmission had interfered with the sensors somehow so they turned it off again. Wish someone would tell them the analogue signal wasn’t broken and didn’t need fixing.