Images Of Envisat Taken, ESA Still Scrambling To Make Contact
April 20, 2012

Images Of Envisat Taken, ESA Still Scrambling To Make Contact

Lee Rannals for

The European Space Agency (ESA) lost contact with its flagship Earth observing satellite almost two weeks ago, but the space agency hasn't skipped a beat in trying to make contact with Envisat.

The recovery team at ESA is using every source available to try and determine if Envisat has entered its "safe mode."  This mode sees that the satellite placed its solar panels in a position so that it can draw power from the Sun.

ESA said on Friday that valuable help is coming from many European and international partners, including France's new Pleiades satellite.

The French space agency CNES used Pleiades to capture images of Envisat as the satellite passed  within about 62 miles of it in orbit.

Flight specialists and engineers are now using the images to determine the orientation of Envisat's solar panels to find out of if the flagship satellite has entered safe mode.

ESA said if the panel is in a suitable position for exposure to the Sun, it 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,” Volker Liebig, ESA´s Director of Earth Observation Programs, said in a prepared statement.

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

The space agency said the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques in Wachtberg, Germany is helping to provide images of Envisat as well.

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

The U.S. Joint Space Operations Center is also helping out ESA in providing information on Envisat's orbit.

The loss of communication of the Earth observing satellite means that scientists are unable to use its 10 sophisticated instruments to help monitor the Earth.

The satellite was expected to be turned off in 2014 by ESA once the first of the Sentinel series of follow up spacecraft made their way up into orbit.

ESA said the launch of the Sentinel series being developed for Europe's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) is becoming "even more urgent."

Envisat has orbited the Earth over 50,000 times, delivering thousands of images and data to study and understand the globe.


Image Caption: Envisat is a truly advanced Earth observation satellite with a unique combination of sensors that vastly improve the range and accuracy of scientific measurements of the atmosphere, oceans, land surface and ice. Its total range of capabilities far exceed those of any previous or planned Earth observation satellite. Credits: ESA