Canada’s Radarsat-1 dormant after suffering ‘technical anomaly’

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The Canadian Space Agency is currently investigating after Radarsat-1, Canada's first Earth-observing satellite, suffered a 'technical anomaly' on March 29th, but prospects for the satellite's recovery aren't looking good.

Radarsat-1 was launched in 1995 for a five-year mission to orbit the planet and monitor its changing environment and natural resources, and was currently in its 18th year of operation when it suffered this malfunction.

[ Related: Canada's oldest observation satellite hobbled in orbit ]

According to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) website:

The sophisticated satellite is equipped with a powerful synthetic aperture radar instrument that acquires images of the Earth day-and-night, in all weather, through cloud cover, smoke and haze. As early as February 1996, it began providing information to government, scientists and commercial users in the fields of cartography, ice studies and observations, hydrology, oceanography, agriculture, forestry and disaster management.

CSA flight operation manager Michel Doyon spoke to Postmedia News about Radarsat-1's problem, according to an Ottawa Citizen article from Tuesday, saying "We’re pretty sure it was not debris."

Space debris in orbit around the Earth is becoming a serious issue, as more and more launches contribute to the problem. The European Space Agency has an office dedicated to tracking orbiting debris, and plans have been proposed to deal with the problem, but nothing has been done yet. Satellites and the International Space Station alter their orbits often, in response to threats from debris, and back in January, a Russian satellite was damaged by debris released during a Chinese anti-satellite weapon test way back in 2007.

Doyon told Postmedia News that, so far, it looks more like a power problem, and CSA flight operators were able to determine that the satellite was in 'safe mode'. He went on to say that it will be a couple of weeks before they know if anything can be done, but while they can try to fix the problem from the ground, noone will to be going up to fix it.

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Given that Dextre, the CSA's companion robot to the Canadarm2 on the International Space Station, just ran through a series of tests to demonstrate its ability to repair and refuel satellites in orbit, I'm curious if they could turn Radarsat-1 in to a practical exam for the robot. If the satellite cannot be saved from the ground, it will (according to what Doyon told Postmedia News) continue to orbit the Earth for up to a decade, or longer, so it would certainly be around long enough for them to try.

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