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back to article Did dicky power supply silence climate-change probe Envisat?

The European Space Agency has all but given up hope of contacting its long-lived Envisat mission, a month after the satellite went silent. Artist's impression of Envisat Artist's impression of Envisat. Credit: ESA Communication with the environment-watching craft suddenly halted on 8 April. Engineers tried to regain control …

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Mushroom

Relevance?

I'm sorry, I thought this was an article on a satellite, rather than on the arguments for/against climate change.

Though it's interesting to see that you've moved forward with the times, calling it climate change rather than global warming, as "change" allows you to take any anonmalous reading as "proof", whereas "warming" would imply only changes in one direction could support your "arguements".

The SCIENCE (as you so stress) is still out on the debate, hence there being scientists on BOTH sides.

Carbon capping/trading, renewable energy subsidies and energy efficiency drives are all well and good at trying to curb emissions and save the enviroment, but the end costs are inevitably affecting those that have the least power to change the situation the most: low-income taxpayers that pay through higher end-user prices. (What, you think the companies are just going to take the hit and not past the costs through?)

But please, name a viable alternative.

And yes, there are ills in the world. But as surely you must have realised by now: If there's no profit in it, it's not going to get fixed anytime soon.

Such is the disgusting ways of "Freedom of Choice" and "Capitalism".

(Woohoo! Flame away!)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Relevance? Humbug.

Envisat was nothing more than a waste of billions of dollars America has poured into Europe, whose Godless socialist policies have driven it into moral bankruptcy and the brink of economic collapse. Thank God for our hard-working conservative entrepreneurs and media, who have never faltered from fearlessly speaking out against the myth of climate change, and have by now established beyond a shadow of a doubt that "global warming" was nothing more than an attempt by foreign governments to control our economic system and spread lies about the Second Coming, which makes climate change irrelevant. Until then, unregulated capitalism is the way God always intended men to live.

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Thumb Up

Re: Relevance? Humbug.

Too bad you can't select the Troll icon as AC, eh?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Relevance? Humbug.

+1 superb parody

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Relevance? Humbug.

Hear hear!

Have an upvote each.

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Happy

Re: Relevance? Humbug.

In related news- a humbug icon could be useful...

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recycle

With a fair few defunct satilites and the growing heap of space garbage I wonder would a recycle and repurposing centre be of any use up there? Start off simply refueling old sats and then move onto collecting other bits and bobs of end of use kit to repurpose?

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Re: recycle

I dunno, "up there" is an awfully big place isn't it? What's the area (never mind volume" of say the geosynchronous orbit space compared to the area of the planet? Can't be bothered to so the sums, but I suspect its a great deal of, well, space to go hunting the junk in. Bigger project than roaming the streets with the nag crying "any old iron"...

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Ru
Boffin

Re: recycle

If we assume the cost of building, launching and running your average new sattelite is going to be in the same ballpark as building, launching and running a repair and refuel spacecraft (which is a generous assumption) there are still two big arguments against it:

1. Trying to dock with a defunct sattelite risks both the sattelite and the repair craft, and an accident produces huge clouds of debris which will endanger other spacecraft for many years to come.

2. A new sattelite is likely to use significantly fancier technology than its n-year old predecessor, and will therefore be rather more useful.

With that sort of risk/reward tradeoff, I don't see anyone running repair missions any time soon, not until we've managed another generation or two of ever cheaper launch vehicles at the very least.

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Bronze badge

Re: recycle

1) You can't capture a lot of this stuff. That's why we plan to de-orbit it before its even launched. The speeds involved don't bear thinking about (one screw in orbit can tear through the Mir Space Station like it was butter - how so you capture that?) You'll notice that it's incredibly rare that we ever dock with a satellite or other orbiting thing unless both are fully-working and we can use both their propulsions and PLAN IT METICULOUSLY. One wrong move and you kill yourself, de-orbit the satellite or add to the space junk ten-fold.

2) There's no value in them. Their biggest cost is launch, yes, but the actual satellites would cost hundreds of times more to capture and even more to repair than just binning them an launching another. Again, this is why we just de-orbit things into the atmosphere and let them burn up.

3) "Refuelling"? Seriously? Most of the "fuel" is either highly radioactive in the old ones, or solar in the new ones. The power isn't the problem. It's the cutouts, safeties, orientation to the Sun, etc. that kills off a satellites power, not it running out of juice. The Voyager spacecraft are still running at something like 50% power while on the outside the solar system 40 years after launch.

4) Who owns that stuff? Who will fund you to repair that stuff (much cheaper to just launch newer kit)? What if you touch a Chinese satellite by mistake? You could seriously start a war by just touching someone else's satellite, even by mistake, or causing debris from your operation to interfere with their kit.

5) Where would you repair it? In space? Via a spacewalk? The single-most-expensive venture that one man ever performs? You know the greatest risk while you're on a spacewalk? Getting hit by space junk that's so small and fast we can't track it. Are we repairing random bits of kit that were fabbed in semiconductor labs with the latest technology from inside an astronaut's spacesuit? Or would you take it to an in-orbit space station that would cost more to build and operate than it would ever cost to relaunch all those satellites put together? Or would you bring it back through our atmosphere at huge expense and risk only to be told that the technology was obsolete and that if they were going to have to launch it again, they'd rather do it with a new model or one that hadn't already broken once?

There's a reason all that space junk is called junk. It effectively is, because of the content, accessibility, and cost of going near it. It's like saying that 80% of the world's gold is in the ocean. It is. It will be. Until we work out a cheap way to drain and search the entire ocean for less than the difference between the total price of all gold on land and the total price of all gold in the sea.

The safest thing to do with space junk, even with politics and cost aside, is to push it into our atmosphere. But only to get it out of the way so the next launch doesn't hit it.

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Silver badge

Re: recycle

You forgot one: Either a government or private entity still owns it, and if you solve the technical problems of capturing it in orbit, and recovered it, you'd likely be told to turn it back over to the owner with no reimbursement for your troubles. Sort of like the guy who found that wreck a couple years back and then lost it all to Spain.

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Thumb Up

Re: recycle

>Bigger project than roaming the streets with the nag crying "any old iron".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvage_1

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Boffin

Re: recycle

'3) "Refuelling"? Seriously? Most of the "fuel" is either highly radioactive in the old ones, or solar in the new ones.'

Orbital satellites do indeed use solar panels to generate electricity -- and deep space probes use radioactive sources -- but that's not the sort of "fuel" being discussed. Orbital satellites occasionally need to be moved, or to have their orbits adjusted. For that they need good old-fashioned chemical rockets and a supply of rocket 'fuel' ... which is both an energy source and reaction mass.

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Silver badge

Re: recycle

But if you put the recycled satellite in the wrong blue box the galactic space council can get very nasty.

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Alien

Re: recycle

the owner of said blue box might not be best pleased either...

Alien because the Doctor is one.

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Re: recycle

Actually, geosynchronous orbit would probably not be where you'd want to put a climate data gathering satellite. Much more useful would be a polar orbit. That way you'd eventually be able to gather data on the entire surface of the earth. For communications satellites, of course, it's quite the opposite.

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Anonymous Coward

Last of its kind

Envisat was a difficult beast to get launched and the sort of monolithic mission that ESA now tries to avoid -- lose the satellite, lose a _lot_ of measurements.

Recent missions, e.g. SMOS etc, are much more focused and generally cheaper and easier to get into operation. However this has hit the demand for Ariane V launches because its target market is Envisat-sized spacecraft.

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Golden BB..?

Surprised not to see speculation on the possiblity of a debris strike among the list of possible culprits.

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Silver badge

Re: Golden BB..?

Maybe the regulator was hit by an escaped super-fast neutrino from Cern?

Is that better?

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Trollface

Re: Golden BB..?

"Is that better?"

Much, thank you.

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Stop

@Lee Dowling

Let me correct you on a few points, since you seem to have failed physics and/or orbital mechanics.

1) Capturing junk satellites and other debris is relatively easy. Yes, it's moving around at many kilometers per second but SO ARE YOU. Match orbits and you can just grab the debris while it's at nearly 0 relative velocity. If you know where the debris is and have the delta V to reach it, retrieval is trivially easy.

3) Fuel in this case is the wrong word. The one you're actually looking for is 'reaction mass'. You see, many of these satellites have to expend small amounts of reaction mass from time to time, for station keeping and avoiding collisions with one another. If you can refill that reaction mass you can significantly extend the useful life of a satellite. Of course satellites aren't designed to be refillable so... Good luck with that.

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Coat

"after the satellite went silent"

Actually, it's been screaming for a month - just nobody can hear it...

... OK, I'm going

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Joke

Maybe it's a sleeping satellite?

You know, Tasmin Archer style?

Did we fly to the moon too soon?

Did we squander the chance? In the rush of the race

The reason we chase is lost in romance

And still we try to justify the waste

For a taste of man's greatest adventure

I blame you for the moonlit sky

And the dream that died with the Eagle's flight

I blame you for the moonlit nights

When I wonder why are the seas still dry?

Don't blame this sleeping satellite

(I'll get me coat)

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Alien

You Izz Optional

Who is this Dicky Power that you speak of, puny Earthling?

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Black Helicopters

Re: You Izz Optional

A close relative of Austin.

Anyway we know it was sabotaged by the renewable lobby when its data set looked like it was proving there was no global warming and indeed never had been.

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Silver badge

Bah!

If only there were someone nearby who could give the bloody thing a tap with a Brummie screwdriver and get it going again.

People in space, robots in car factories. A recipe for progress.

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Silver badge

I think you'll find that..

it was hit by a meteoroid in just the part of its structure where the impact detection equipment was located ( or something similar)

Cheers Douglas

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Anonymous Coward

European space agency

It turns out it may have been a mistake to rely on a common power supply.

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Re: European space agency

Be fair - it's lasted twice the warranty period. You don't normally get service like that, these days.

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Boffin

Maybe the reason it died was because of bad capacitors in the power supply circuit which in turn resulted in fried semiconductor(s). http://www.badcaps.net/pages.php?vid=4 Just my 3p.

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Thumb Up

All these comments, and no-one pointing out what a clever little satellite it was for 'living' twice it's allotted lifespan.

Who's a brave likkle satellite eh?

(also: http://xkcd.com/695/)

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