PCB accelerometers operating after six years on weather satellites


In 2016, PCB Piezotronics Inc supplied Lockheed Martin with accelerometers for use on the GOES-16 weather satellite from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These accelerometers are still successfully operating after six years under cosmic radiation conditions.

GOES-16 was the first of four Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R Series (GOES-R) next-generation weather satellites. The advanced spacecraft and instrument technology used on the GOES-R series has resulted in more timely and accurate forecasts and warnings. It improves support for detecting and observing meteorological phenomena impacting public safety, property protection and economic health and development.

The GOES-R series spacecraft bus is three-axis stabilised and designed for ten years of on-orbit operation preceded by up to five years of on-orbit storage. The satellites operate through periodic station-keeping and momentum adjustment manoeuvres, which allow for near-continuous instrument observations. Other notable performance elements include vibration isolation for the Earth-pointed optical bench and high-speed spacecraft-to-instrument interfaces designed to maximise scientific data collection. The GOES-R series requirements call for the cumulative interruption time from all momentum management, station-keeping and yaw flip manoeuvres to be less than 120 minutes per year. This is an improvement of nearly two orders of magnitude compared to the previous GOES satellites.

The spacecraft carries three classifications of instruments: nadir-pointing, solar-pointing and in-situ. The GOES-R nadir-pointing instruments include the advanced baseline imager (ABI) and the geostationary lightning mapper (GLM). These two instruments are Earth-pointing and are located on a highly stable precision-pointed platform that is dynamically isolated from the rest of the spacecraft. PCB’s accelerometers were used by Lockheed Martin to measure the dynamic environment of the instrument platform in flight and to characterise that environment to improve the interpretation of instrument data.

PCB engineers supported Lockheed Martin’s efforts during the design and build phase of the Model 393M90 accelerometer to meet the GOES-R satellite programme requirements. Throughout this programme, PCB and Lockheed Martin engineers worked as a team to ensure that the PCB Model 393M90 could withstand the harsh environment during and after satellite launch.

The GOES-16 spacecraft ushered in a new era of Earth and space weather observation for the USA. GOES-17 launched in 2018 and GOES-18 launched in March 2022, both utilising PCB accelerometers. The last of the series, GOES-U (to be named GOES-19 once it reaches geostationary orbit), is currently set to launch in April 2024.