Crippled ENVISAT imaged in orbit, still incommunicado

From the European Space Agency: Investigation on Envisat continues

Pleiades image of Envisat in orbit at ~100km


Optical, radar and laser observations of the Envisat satellite show that it is still in a stable orbit. Efforts to regain contact with the satellite have been under way since 8 April, when it unexpectedly stopped sending data to Earth.

To determine if Envisat has entered its ‘safe mode’ – which would be a starting point for revival – the recovery team is drawing on every information source available.

Valuable help is coming from many European and international partners. France’s new Pleiades satellite normally provides very high-resolution images of Earth, but is now focusing on Envisat to shed more light on the situation.

On 15 April, the French space agency CNES turned Pleiades to capture images of Envisat passing within about 100 km. This remarkable feat was possible thanks to the exceptional agility of Pleiades.

Flight specialists and engineers are using the images to determine the orientation of Envisat’s solar panel – the satellite’s power source.

If the panel is in a suitable position for sufficient exposure to the Sun, enough power is being generated to put Envisat into safe mode, and could allow for re-establishing communications with Earth.

“We are really grateful to CNES for offering to acquire images of Envisat using their Pleiades and Spot satellites,” said Volker Liebig, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes.

“Additional observations being acquired across the globe show how the international space community has come together to track this veteran satellite.”

TIRA ground-based radar image of Envisat in orbit Image: Fraunhofer Institute


The Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques in Wachtberg, Germany, is also providing images to help determine Envisat’s orientation.

Images from the TIRA ground-based tracking and imaging radar show the satellite’s body, solar panel and radar antenna.

“These unique images will enable us to analyse Envisat’s orientation, which will indicate whether we are able to regain contact with the satellite,” said Manfred Warhaut, Head of ESA’s Mission Operations Department.

Information on Envisat’s orbit is being provided by the US Joint Space Operations Center. In addition, multiple laser ranging stations on the ground are providing information to verify the stability of the satellite’s orbit.

The sudden interruption of Envisat services has disrupted data provision to the international Earth observation user community, which relies on data continuity.

The launch of the upcoming Sentinel series being developed for Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme has become even more urgent.

The Sentinels will provide the data needed for information services to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security.

Readers may note that Envisat is huge, about the size of a bus:

Model of Envisat in original size. See scaffol...

Model of Envisat in original size. See scaffolding and person near golden solar panel on the left for reference of size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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25 thoughts on “Crippled ENVISAT imaged in orbit, still incommunicado

  1. Well, it delivered the wrong sea level data anyway. So it was of no use for the warmist Eurocrats.

  2. From the last paragraph: (bold my add)

    “The Sentinels will provide the data needed for information services to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security.”

    We as a species have quite the ego me thinks.

    And ensure civil security?? Are they armed with lasers?

  3. “The sudden interruption of Envisat services has disrupted data provision to the international Earth observation user community, which relies on data continuity.”

    oh come on, “data continuity” is so 1987. Just crank up the computer models and print what you know Envisat WOULD have provided, right? What could go wrong?

    I see a Brave New World of Virtual Satellites and Virtual measurments. Think of the money that can be saved when there’s no more need for any of this messy measuring business!!!

    (and btw, I apologize for the test posts – I never know anymore if wordpress is going to take a submission or kick it out without trying one)

  4. “In addition, multiple laser ranging stations on the ground are providing information to verify the stability of the satellite’s orbit.”

    Will this shed any new light on the sea level measurements taken before Envisat’s reported demise?

  5. Manager: What did you get from the laser imaging I ordered yesterday?
    Flight Engineer: According to the laser imaging of the satellite the panels were lined up quite well yesterday and the converter couplings indicate a negative drain on the input flux..

    Manager: Yea, yea, yea, whatever; is it talking yet?
    Flight Engineer: I’ll check the data, hmm, hmm.

    Manager: Well What?
    Flight Engineer: Yes, but. hmmm, I only got two words…

    Manager: Well what’s it saying?
    Flight Engineer: You won’t like it.

    Manager: Out with it, what is it saying!?
    Flight Engineer: I’m Blind.

  6. Andrew30 says:
    April 25, 2012 at 6:57 am

    That reminds me of an old joke, might have been George Carlin.

    It’s amazing what they can do with lasers these days, everything form zapping tanks to eye surgery. Just make sure that before you have your eyes worked on, that the laser isn’t on the zap tank setting.

    I hope they took the laser off the zap tank setting before they checked out that satellite.

  7. I think I see the problem, looking at the image that was taken with the other satellite. The satellite is on fire!!!
    /sarc

  8. Jean Parisot says:
    April 25, 2012 at 6:06 am
    That IR image is great.

    If you’re talking about the TIRA image, according to the caption it’s RADAR, not IR.

  9. RHS says:
    April 25, 2012 at 7:50 am

    I think I see the problem, looking at the image that was taken with the other satellite. The satellite is on fire!!!
    /sarc

    Badda-a-dum. That’s radar. Sparkly bits are reflective metal surfaces. Color is by Crayola.

  10. The latest sea-level data have enabled scientists to diagnose the problem with Envisat….

    …..It is now under 50ft of sea water.

  11. Wonder how much of our money down the pan with this problem. Reminds me of the Monty Python “Dead Parrot Sketch”… :-) Only this one not so amusing…:-((

  12. I see my error. Brain locked on T IR A, thought it was excellent resolution for a passive imager at that range.

  13. “put Envisat into safe mode”

    Hit the remote reset button, hold the F8 key then select Last known good configuration. If that fails, repeat the procedure and select VGA mode. If that fails repeat the procedure and choose Safe mode with networking.

    If that fails then yer screwed because NASA scuttled the shuttle so there’s no way to send an on-site technician.

  14. “..To determine if Envisat has entered its ‘safe mode’ – which would be a starting point for revival – the recovery team is drawing on every information source available.”..

    Arr fer cr@p sake! Don’t these overpaid morons know how to program hardware in trouble?

    Satellite sends “safe mode” communication – wait for reply “reset” or similar. How hard can it be..? If it’s dead – the software’s silence should qualify. Jeez..

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