NOAA Retires Powerhouse Weather Satellite with Amazing Time-Lapse Video

hurricane katrina
NOAA's GOES-12 weather satellites captured this image of Hurricane Katrina at Category 5 strength on Aug. 28, 2005, at 11:45 a.m. EDT. (Image credit: NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has retired its powerhouse GOES-12 weather-monitoring satellite, the agency announced this week.

The GOES-12 satellite, decommissioned Aug. 16, kept a watchful eye on the East Coast from 2003 to 2010. From Hurricanes Katrina and Charley to the 2010 Christmas blizzard that paralyzed New York City, the spaceborne observer helped forecasters track storms and severe weather 24 hours a day.

The weather satellite was also the first GOES satellite to carry a solar X-ray imager, which sent back spectacular images of the sun. The imager captured video of the 2004 transit, or passage, of Venus across the sun — the first transit in almost 122 years.

GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. The 15 satellites of this series have monitored Earth in geostationary orbits, meaning they are always watching the same spot, from a height of 22,300 miles (35,888 kilometers). The first GOES weather satellitewas launched in 1974. [Watch 10 years of weather in 3 minutes]

GOES-12 roared into space on July 23, 2001, aboard a rocket launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In 2003, it took over the job of the GOES-8 satellite. Since 1997, NOAA has kept more than one GOES satellite in orbit at a time, as a cost-saving measure and in case of problems. For example, in 2012, the GOES-13 satellite shut down after several days of erratic behavior. It was replaced by the GOES-14 satellite, which launched in 2009.

Though the GOES-12 satellite had its own temporary shutdowns, due to thruster leaks, the flying weather watcher doubled its expected life span, lasting 10 years instead of five.

"GOES-12 gave the Western Hemisphere many years of reliable data as the operational eastern GOES for accurate forecasts, from small storms to those of historic proportions," Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA's Satellite and Information Service, said in a statement.

Though GOES-12 was removed from official East Coast duty in 2010, since May of that year, it has monitored South America weather conditions, wildfires, droughts and volcanic ash clouds, according to NOAA. Some of its thrusters had failed, and other instruments were on limited or standby status, including the imager and sounder, which help detect atmospheric conditions.

The decommissioned satellite will use its remaining fuel to move into a higher orbit, where it will be less likely to crash into other spacecraft. The battery and transmitters will be turned off, so its signals won't interfere with current or future spacecraft, NOAA said.

Shutting down GOES-12 leaves NOAA with three geostationary weather satellites: GOES-13 over the East Coast; GOES-15 above the West Coast and GOES-14 in reserve.

Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Becky Oskin
Contributing Writer
Becky Oskin covers Earth science, climate change and space, as well as general science topics. Becky was a science reporter at Live Science and The Pasadena Star-News; she has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics. She earned a master's degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor's degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.