The GOES-7 satellite, one of NOAA's earliest geostationary satellites, was moved into a higher orbit and retired from service. Launched in 1987, GOES-7 first served as a critical weather satellite, capturing images of developing hurricanes and other severe storms that impacted the United States.
In 1999, when its Earth-observing instruments degraded past operational use, NOAA leased GOES-7 to the Pan-Pacific Education and Communication Experiments by Satellite (PEACESAT) program, which used the satellite to provide communications for the Pacific islands.
PEACESAT, managed in part by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, allows doctors in the Hawaii and the continental United States to meet with Pacific Islanders through video teleconference consultations as a means of providing health services to remote areas.
"When the advanced geostationary satellites were ready to launch, NOAA decided to lease GOES-7 to PEACESAT," said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA's Satellite and Information Service. "The communications instruments were still in good shape, and we were happy PEACESAT could use it."
GOES-7 is the only satellite in the history of NOAA's geostationary program to serve both as the GOES-East and GOES-West spacecraft in the course of normal operations. When its predecessor GOES-6 failed, GOES-7 was the sole geostationary spacecraft from 1989 to 1994. Engineers moved the spacecraft from a western position in the winter to cover Pacific storms into California and the northwest to an eastern position in the summer to cover east coast hurricanes. GOES-7 provided vital imagery of the deadly Hurricane Andrew as it tore through southern Florida in 1992.
On April 12, GOES-7 was "retired" from service through a final burn from its booster, which moved it approximately 186 miles (300 km) above its operational geostationary orbit to a "graveyard orbit", such that it will not interfere with other satellites. The final maneuver to adjust the spin rate of the spacecraft and deplete all remaining fuel happened at 2 a.m. EDT today. The communications packages were turned off then and the satellite powered down.
Currently, NOAA operates GOES-13 and GOES-15, which are providing continuous coverage of the United States and the Western Hemisphere. NOAA also has two other geostationary satellites in orbit - GOES-12, which provides data for meteorologists in South America, and GOES-14, which is in storage orbit as a ready replacement.
NOAA is planning the next generation of geostationary satellites, called GOES-R, with the first poised to launch in 2015. GOES-R is expected to more than double the clarity of today's GOES imagery and provide more atmospheric observations than current capabilities with more frequent images. In addition, data from GOES-R instruments will be used to create many different products NOAA meteorologists and others will use to monitor the atmosphere, land, ocean and the sun.