ENVISAT likely dead in the sky

More bad satellite news: ENVISAT seems to have stopped phoning home. ENVISAT is a giant satellite managed by the European Space Agency, and has been collecting a ton of environmental data since 2002. It has 10 different instruments, and has been used extensively in climate research over the past decade.

Sometime on 8 April, ENVISAT stopped communicating with controllers at the ESA. There has been a concerted effort to determine the cause of the failure and re-establish communication of the satellite. This effort is impressive, with the French satellite Pleiades even being turned away from Earth to try to capture images of ENVISAT to determine the state of the solar panels. Other observations of the satellite are also being used to make sure that ENVISAT is -- and is staying -- in a stable orbit. There is some hope that a connection can be reestablished if ENVISAT has gone into -- or could be cajoled into switching to --  "safe mode." Otherwise, it is likely that there has been catastrophic failure of the main computer or power source on board, and there's no hope of recovery. 

ENVISAT's estimated lifetime was just 5 years, so again over-engineering paid off (like the Mars rovers, SeaWiFS, etc). Unfortunately, the Sentinel satellites that are planned to replace ENVISAT have not been put into orbit yet, so there is likely to be a gap in the data record for some of the quantities that ENVISAT monitors. These even include CO2; the launch failure of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (NASA) in 2009 left just ENVISAT and a Japanese satellite with capabilities to monitor CO2 from space. Now there is just the Japanese satellite, the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite. Apparently there is a lot of controversy and arguing about how to pay for the Sentinels, making the ESA's commitment to climate monitoring just as shaky as NASA and NOAA's in the USA.

Geoff Brumfiel, 

ESA [link]

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