A satellite designed to track severe weather in the US, has failed on the eve of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season.
Experts fear it could not have happened at a worse time. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the satellite, which provides coverage for the entire US eastern seaboard, is relied upon to track hurricanes threatening cities along the coast. The NOAA gave a warning that this year's hurricane season – the first since hurricane Sandy devastated the New York and New Jersey shorelines last October – is likely to be "extremely active".
The Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season begins this week and lasts for six months. The NOAA has predicted as many as 13 to 20 tropical storms could threaten homes, with half of those likely to strengthen.
The NOAA announced that a spare satellite had been activated while attempts are made to fix the failed one, but added there was currently "no estimate on its return to operations".
The organisation's three current Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) were built by Boeing and designed to last 10 years. The failed satellite, GOES-13, was launched in 2006.
NOAA typically operates two GOES spacecraft over the country, overlooking the East and West coasts, plus one on-orbit spare. The satellites are fitted with technology enabling them to watch for clouds and developing storms.
The first sign of trouble with GOES-13, the primary East coast satellite, emerged late last Wednesday when it failed to relay expected images, NOAA reports showed.
If a second GOES should fail, NOAA would operate its remaining satellite to get a full view of the US every half-hour. The organisation would also depend more on other information relayed by polar-orbiting weather satellites.