Saturday, May 12, 2012

Envisat Redlines

Yesterday operators called off the resuscitation effort on Envisat, the European Space Agency's massive Earth-imaging satellite, after a month of unresponsiveness from the 10 year old satellite. There are several possible causes of the loss of communication. According to, "The failure of a power regulator may be blocking the satellite's telemetry and telecommand systems, ESA officials said. There may have also been a short circuit on board that plunged Envisat into a protective "safe mode," then a second malfunction that left the satellite in an unknown state, incapable of receiving commands from Earth. As a fellow operator, my heart goes out to the Envisat Ops team. I can't imagine anything more frustrating than troubleshooting an unknown anomaly in the blind, with the whole space world watching. 

Despite having no comms, the ESA was able to verify that the solar arrays were still deployed thanks to a neat photo from the CNES Earth-observing Pleiades satellite:
Envisat, as images by Pleiades. Source: CNES 
The ESA says that operators will continue to command in the blind and consider failure scenarios for the next couple months. (I imagine they will also be job hunting!) Assuming they cannot raise Envisat from the dead, the satellite will be the latest casualty in the shrinking fleet of Earth-observation satellites. 
Looks like there's going to be a vacuum in the industry pretty soon. Hmmmmm. Maybe an innovative startup could find a way to take advantage?

Though Envisat's death is sad, we should remember that it had a meaningful and long life, (it's initial lifetime projection was only 5 years) and it died doing what it loved.

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