The European Space Agency () retired a 16-year-old Earth observation satellite July 6, taking it out of service and initiating a series of thruster burns that will gradually lower the satellite to about 550 kilometers from its current altitude of 800 kilometers.
ESA expects the ERS-2 satellite to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere within 25 years.
ERS-2 was launched in 1995, four years after the launch of the first European Remote Sensing satellite, which failed unexpectedly in 2000, preventing its proper disposal.
“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 maneuvers,” ESA said in a July 5 press release announcing the beginning of de-orbiting operations.
ERS-2 carried a suite of instruments designed to study the atmosphere, land, oceans and polar ice. The satellite’s synthetic aperture radar was used to monitor how the Earth moves during earthquakes. Its radiometer provided precise maps of global sea-surface temperature and its radar altimeter provided new information on sea level. Additionally, the satellite’s Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment provided insight into the depletion of stratospheric ozone over Antarctica.
The de-orbiting procedures are expected to be carried out over a number of weeks by spacecraft operators and flight dynamics experts at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.