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ESA’s veteran ERS-2 satellite retires

France: European Space Agency (ESA) retires its veteran ERS-2 remote sensing satellite. According to ESA’s press statement, to avoid ERS-2 ending up as a piece of space debris, ESA will take the satellite out of service by bringing it down to a lower orbit while there is still sufficient fuel to make the careful manoeuvres.
ERS-2 was launched in 1995, following its sister, the first European Remote Sensing satellite, which was launched four years earlier. Carrying suites of sophisticated instruments to study the complexities of the atmosphere, land, oceans and polar ice, these two missions were the most advanced of their time, putting Europe firmly at the forefront of Earth observation.
The twin satellites were identical, apart from ERS-2’s additional instrument to monitor ozone in the atmosphere. Both exceeded their design lifetime by far, together delivering a 20-year stream of continuous data. ERS-1 unexpectedly stopped working in 2000.
The decision to retire ERS-2 was not taken lightly, but after orbiting Earth almost 85 000 times – travelling 3.8 billion km – the risk that the satellite could lose power at any time is clearly high. Its destruction will occur within 25 years, in accordance with European Code of Conduct on Space Debris Mitigation.
Carrying the first spaceborne civil radar, ERS-2 offered a new perspective of Earth. In particular, by exploiting the process of synthetic aperture radar interferometry we have been able to monitor how the ground moves during events like the earthquake that recently devastated Japan. A similar technique is also used to generate digital elevation models.
The radiometer has provided precise maps of global sea-surface temperature, leading to novel observations of the 1997 El Niňo, and the radar altimeter provided new information on sea level, a major concern linked to climate change.
In addition, the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) on ERS-2 provided insight into the depletion of stratospheric ozone over Antarctica. GOME was the longest serving ozone monitor in the world, with its success leading to a string of similar satellite sensors.
In essence, ERS provided the scientific and technical heritage for Europe to continue monitoring our planet from space.
Source: ESA