An important weather satellite has returned to service after being shut down when hit by a tiny pebble of space debris.
The satellite, known as GOES-13, came back online Monday. It has been out of operation since May 22.
The satellite serves as the primary weather observer over the eastern United States, while a second satellite serves the western half of the nation.
With GOES-13 offline, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shifted the western satellite slightly and activated a third satellite that had been in orbital storage. The third satellite serves as a backup.
Satellites are critical to public safety because of the role they play in generating accurate forecasts about pending storms. As the federal budget becomes tighter, there's growing concern about the durability of the nation's fleet of weather satellites.
Engineers believe a tiny piece of solar rock or space junk struck a solar panel on GOES-13. The satellite's scientific monitors shut down immediately. Engineers then placed the satellite in safe mode until they could assess the extent of damage.
A team of engineers from NOAA, NASA, Boeing and Exelis determined the pebble-strike did not damage satellite's instruments, or the satellite itself, according to a release issued Monday by NOAA.
Satellites hover about 22,300 miles above the equator.
This type of satellite travels at the same speed of Earth and in the same direction that the planet rotates so that it can watch the same spot, all the time. This allows scientists to detect changes in the atmosphere, which is critical to storm forecasting.
A second type of satellite travels from north to south, and so gets a global picture of the atmosphere — rather than one seeing just one specific spot. This polar orbiting satellite, as it is known, plays an important role in longer-term forecasts.
To view the angle of the Earth as seen by GOES East and West satellites and to learn more about the weather satellite program: http://noaasis.noaa.gov/NOAASIS/ml/genlsatl.html