An anomaly in orbit affects a powerful European Earth-observation satellite

In orbit, one of humankind’s most impactful Earth-observing satellites is experiencing some issues. Since December 23, the Sentinel-1B radar satellite, which is a portion of the European Union’s Copernicus Earth monitoring program, has not transmitted any data. And it appears that the matter is quite significant.

The Copernicus program is a European Space Agency (ESA) and European Union (EU) project that builds and manages the Sentinel fleet of Earth-observing satellites. To date, eight missions have been launched, collecting data on changes in our planet’s oceans, land, and atmosphere.

As per history from the EU, Copernicus was founded in 1998 when European Union officials inked the Baveno Manifesto, a declaration advocating that Europe play a prominent role in addressing global environmental and climate challenges, in Baveno, Italy. GMES (Global Monitoring for Environmental Security) was the initial name for the program, which was created to give information that may benefit humanitarian relief, peacekeeping missions, border monitoring, and environmental concerns.

In 2004, the European Space Agency (ESA) agreed to build a space-centered component of GMES, which would comprise the Sentinel satellite family. According to the program’s website, the plan was rebranded Copernicus in the year 2011 after Renaissance-era Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who proposed that the Earth orbited around the sun for the first time.

“Following the earlier report on the Sentinel-1B anomaly on December 23, 2021, the resumption of operations was carefully planned, including onboard configuration changes to prevent the anomaly from occurring again,” Copernicus members of the team stated in a Monday update (January 10).

“However, it became obvious during the planning of the recovery operations that the first anomaly was a result of a possibly serious malfunction relating to a unit of the Sentinel-1B satellite’s power system,” they continued. “The recent actions have not allowed for the reactivation of a power supply function essential for radar operations. Over the following few days, more investigations will be conducted to determine and correct the root cause.”

Two years before its twin, Sentinel-1A, Sentinel-1B was launched into polar orbit in April 2016. For a range of users, the two satellites have been delivering constant, high-resolution radar mapping of Earth. According to the mission description, each satellite is anticipated to collect data for at least 7 years and has sufficient fuel on board to function for 12 years.

The Sentinel-1 satellite isn’t the only Copernicus mission to launch. Two Sentinel-2 satellites, the Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite, two Sentinel-3 spacecraft, and Sentinel-6A, which launched in November 2020, make up the Copernicus constellation. More are expected to be released in the coming years. Copernicus also uses data from a range of “contributing missions,” that are run by several different organizations.

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