Canada’s first Earth Observation satellite has been officially declared non-operational after a final anomaly consigned the satellite to what will be a very slow de-orbit to a final fiery burn-up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The anomaly that took RADARSAT-1 out of commission on March 29th wasn’t its first, but it was its last.
RADARSAT-1’s mission was to monitor environmental changes and the planet’s natural resources. Launched in November of 1995, its lifespan was to have been five years. However it lasted well beyond the original factory warranty to work another 12 years for a total service time of 17 years.
Ironically, it was just over a year ago when Europe’s newer ENVISAT satellite went offline and for which RADARSAT-1 was tasked to help fill-in with the lost access to data.
According to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), RADARSAT-1 can count among its many accomplishments the Antarctic Mapping Missions (AMM) which took place in 1999 and 2000 and delivered the first-ever high-resolution maps of the entire frozen continent.
The CSA said that “during its 90,828 orbits around the earth it provided 625,848 images to more than 600 clients and partners in Canada and 60 countries worldwide. It assisted with information gathering during 244 disaster events and literally mapped the world, providing complete coverage of the World’s continents, continental shelves and polar icecaps.”
“RADARSAT-1 showcased Canadian technical innovation and fostered the creation of value-added applications development serving the needs of Canada and the world. Its successor, RADARSAT-2, continues to build on this advanced radar technology and provides clients with greatly improved and diversified images of the Earth,” said Gilles Leclerc, Acting President of the CSA.
Joining the heritage of RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 will be the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, an initial three satellite constellation currently being built and for which full funding was approved earlier this year.
RADARSAT-1 does not have enough propellant to de-orbit the satellite immediately. With little to no propellant left, gravity will slowly bring the satellite back to Earth. However according to one engineer who worked on the RADARSAT-1 mission because of the lack of propellant and based on its orbit, it could take centuries for it to eventually burn-up in the atmosphere.
RADARSAT-1 was built before international space debris mitigation guidelines were in place which mandate that satellites have enough propellant for a safe and timely de-orbit before they cease to function.