The European Space Agency (ESA) has officially declared its flagship environmental satellite dead. ESA unexpectedly lost contact with the €2.3 billion (US$3 billion) Envisat on 8 April. Images taken later by a nearby French satellite revealed that it was in a stable orbit, but all efforts to contact it have failed. Mission engineers believe that a critical electrical failure is the most likely cause of the satellite’s demise.
Envisat had already operated for double its lifetime, but researchers hoped that it could do more. With a bit of luck, the satellite would have lasted until ESA’s next-generation Sentinel satellites began flying later in the decade. Those satellites are themselves the subject of an ongoing funding squabble between ESA and the European Commission, and it remains unclear when they will be launched (for more, see: Europe loses sight of earth).
For now, there are NASA satellites to fall back on, but they may not be around forever. A recent National Academy of Sciences report warns of a coming decline in the number of operating US missions.