by Brian Orlotti
Canada's Radarsat-1 satellite stopped communicating with Earth last month, and the country's oldest Earth observation satellite may be permanently lost.
As outlined in the April 9th, 2013 CBC News article "Canada's oldest observation satellite hobbled in orbit" ground controllers last heard from the satellite on March 29th, when they noticed Radarsat-1 was in safe mode, a low-activity state in which the spacecraft conserves energy.
But soon after that, the satellite went silent because the batteries ran out of power, and ground staff have been trying various recovery procedures ever since.
Though Canadian Space Agency (CSA) officials haven’t given up on reviving Radarsat-1, the odds aren’t good.
|RADARSAT-1 image of the Mekong delta.|
As outlined in the April 9th, 2013 CSA press release "RADARSAT-1 Malfunction," the situation "does not impact the security of Canadian borders, coasts and northern territories as Radarsat-2 continues to provide critical, high-quality data. Government and commercial users of Radarsat-1 have been advised that no new orders for imagery are being accepted, but that requests for archival images will continue to be processed."
Launched in 1995, Radarsat-1 operated for 12 years beyond its expected five-year lifespan; a testament to its designers’ skill. Radarsat-1 established Canada as a world leader in orbital synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging.
Originally built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., and Spar Aerospace (purchased by MacDonald Dettwiler in 1999), Radarsat-1 is in an 800 km high sun-synchronous orbit covering the entire planet.
In an April 9th, 2013 Canadian News Wire (CNW) press release titled "RADARSAT-1 status update," MDA external relations contact Wendy Keyser indicated that the impact of RADARSAT-1 not functioning "is not significant to MDA's business."
Radarsat 1's total cost was about $600 million, excluding launch costs, according to the CSA. Radarsat 1 data was used in maritime surveillance, cartography, ice research, oceanography, agriculture, forestry and disaster management applications. Its C-band radar collected imagery of Earth's surface in day and night and in all weather conditions, creating images sharp enough to resolve objects as small as 8 meters.
|Composite RADARSAT-1 /SPOT-5 image from the International Charter: Space and Major Disasters website.|
The follow-on Radarsat-2 spacecraft was launched in December 2007 and continues to operate. Unlike
Radarsat 1, which is owned and operated by the Government of Canada, Radarsat 2 is owned and operated by MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) of Richmond, B.C. MDA has an agreement to supply data to the Canadian government throughout Radarsat 2’s lifetime in return for partial funding of the satellite's construction and launch. After the launch of Radarsat 2, Radarsat 1 took on a backup role to alleviate demand on the new satellite. Radarsat 2 is designed to last until at least 2014.
The CSA is developing a third-generation observation program called the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), which will use a trio of satellites to gather imagery at a faster rate, covering Canadian territories at least once per day and up to four times daily in the Arctic. In January, the Canadian government signed a $706Mln CDN contract for MDA to build the three next-generation RCM satellites. These satellites are scheduled for launch in 2018.