Envisat concept art (via European Space Agency)
April 8th began the troubles for the European Space Agency (ESA). At a scheduled time, Envisat, a large environment satellite, did not make its transmission of data back home. The satellite is the largest and most expensive non-military satellite orbiting Earth. It measures in at 30 feet long, 16 feet wide, and also carries a large solar array that is about 16 feet wide and 46 feet long and collectively weighs in around 17,600 pounds (about 8,000 kilograms).
Although Envisat is not communicating as of the moment, efforts are being made to restore contact with the satellite. It is still floating around in a stable orbit and will be for 150 more years unless some outside force interferes with its path. Envisat was only planned to have a five year mission collecting data on environmental factors such as air quality, land masses, sea ice, atmosphere, and ocean conditions. However, the satellite lasted twice as long as planned and scientist were hoping it would last until its predecessors could be launched and calibrated around the year 2014.
Envisat supplied data using 10 different sophisticated instruments. The instruments used include a spectrometer, a radio meter that can measure the oceans temperature, and a radar altimeter. In addition, it used an interferometer which is a Fourier transforming infrared spectrometer which transmits data about pressure and temperature along with information about atmospheric gases.
Scientists are worried about the gap in data that the loss of this satellite will cause. Envisat was the most advanced information collecting system in space. An agreement with Canada to use two of their satellites to continue collecting data is being looked into, however those two satellites combined will still not fill in all the missing information that Envisat would have provided.
For now scientist will have to get by with what they got. ESA has already been planning to launch newer satellites into space called Sentinels. The program will launch 5 different satellites into space over a period of 6 to 7 years. Hopefully engineers can find a way to fix Envisat, or else it will would become a billion dollar, bus-sized piece of technology added to the space junk collection.