WASHINGTON — The U.S. government’s aging Landsat 5 Earth observation satellite was recertified for operations Aug. 17 after inexplicably tumbling out of its operating orbit Aug. 13, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) spokesman said Aug. 26.
The USGS is still investigating the cause of the anomaly, and one possibility is that it was struck by debris during the annual Perseid meteor shower that peaked around that time, the spokesman, Ron Beck, said in an interview.
Engineers were able to properly reorient the 25-year-old satellite the same day of the anomaly. It resumed imaging Aug. 14, but the data collected that day contained errors and is unusable, Beck said. The satellite was cleared for operations Aug. 17, and all data recorded since Aug. 15 is now available to users.
The government-funded Landsat series of satellites have been operating since the early 1970s, gathering data for applications including land-use planning, resource management and agricultural monitoring. Landsat 5 has enough propellant to last until 2012, but the satellite is 22 years beyond its design life and could fail at any time, Beck said. The USGS also operates the 10-year-old Landsat 7 satellite, which has a sensor glitch that has degraded its data products.
The next satellite in the series, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, is scheduled to launch in 2012.