Pleiades Snapped Detailed View of Envisat

The giant Envisat satellite, which is the world’s largest imaging satellite for civilian use,

was photographed in stunning detail by a French spacecraft that is also designed to snap high-resolution images of Earth. The photo of Envisat in space reveals that the $2.9 billion spacecraft is intact and that its huge solar array is deployed. Envisat is a huge satellite that weighs about 17,600 pounds (8,000 kilograms). It is about 30 feet long (9 meters) and 16 feet wide (5 m), not counting the solar wing. ESA satellite operators lost contact with the 10-year-old Envisat on April 8 and have been trying to revive the spacecraft ever since. As part of that rescue effort, ESA officials asked their international partners for aid in investigating the giant satellite’s malfunction, and the French space agency CNES volunteered time with its new Pleiades spacecraft. Like Envisat, Pleiades is an Earth-watching satellite designed to snap high-resolution images of the planet. Pleiades launched in December and is designed for use by military and civilian customers. Pleiades snapped its detailed view of Envisat on April 15, when the two spacecraft passed within 62 miles (100 kilometers) of one another. ESA engineers are using photos from the encounter to determine if Envisat’s solar array, which is 16 feet wide (5 m) and 46 feet long (14 m), is actually oriented in the right position. If Envisat is in the right position, with its solar array collecting enough sunlight to power onboard systems, then it is possible that the satellite is in a protective state known as “safe mode,” ESA officials said. That could make it possible to revive the satellite, they added. According to Manfred Warhaut, head of ESA’s Mission Operations Department these unique images will enable they to analyze Envisat’s orientation, which will indicate whether they are able to regain contact with the satellite.