Kudos to the French space agency, CNES, not only for the longevity of its Spot 2 Earth observing satellite, retired June 30 after 19 years of service, but more importantly for taking steps to safely dispose of the spacecraft.
Spot 2 was launched at a time when congestion in low Earth orbit wasn’t fully recognized as the problem it is today; its design did not take into account voluntary spacecraft disposal guidelines published in 2002 by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. Through a series of braking maneuvers, however, CNES will put Spot 2 on an orbital trajectory that within 25 years will take it back into the atmosphere, where it will burn up harmlessly upon re-entry. This adheres to the disposal guidelines, something that is especially important for satellites in Spot 2’s operating orbit, which is heavily populated with Earth observation craft.
No, CNES’s Spot 2 disposal plan doesn’t rise to the level of heroic. But good orbital citizenship is always worth noting, if only to keep the imperative of protecting the space environment from falling off anyone’s radar screen.