Posted: 5:44 pm Monday, November 23rd, 2009

QuikSCAT satellite goes down 

By Eliot Kleinberg

QuikSCAT, the NASA satellite whose health helped lead to the ouster of the National Hurricane Center’s director, has stopped working.

The satellite’s antenna quit rotating at 2 this morning, according to U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. 

In September, Klein introduced the Satellite Modernization Act, which will pay for craft that will cover 90 percent of the ocean surface every 12 hours.

 ”Today’s news of its failure simply strengthens our commitment to ensure that a next-generation satellite is constructed and launched as quickly as possible,” Klein said in a statement.

Currently, QuikSCAT makes the scan every 24 hours, but with the antenna down, it will lose its real-time reporting capability, and will collect only long-term data, project manager Rob Gaston said from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“That capability, I don’t think we’re going to get back,” Gaston, who’s been with QuikSCAT since its launch in 1999 and manager since 2004, said this afternoon. 

He said the JPL will work on restarting the antenna over the next week, “but the chances of that happening are slim.”

QuikSCAT was well past its original 5-year useful life and had been showing mechanical wear, and agencies had warned for the last two years that it could fail at any time.

A NOAA memo from September had insisted that losing QuickSCAT would have little or no impact on the quality of forecasts for storms near the U.S. or the Caribbean, because of the other satellites, as well as radar, airplanes and buoys, both American and from other nations.

But the NOAA memo did say QuikSCAT was valuable in studying storms in the open ocean.

It was a spat over the satellite that helped lead to the ouster of then-director Bill Proenza in July 2007, just six months into his tenure.

Proenza had claimed the loss of QuikSCAT would reduce by 16 percent the accuracy of the hurricane center’s three-day forecast.