PARIS — The French Spot 2 Earth observation satellite, launched in 1990 for what was intended to be three years of service, is being retired after 19 years of uninterrupted operations and will be guided into a graveyard orbit by July 30, the French space agency, CNES, announced July 23.
A series of braking maneuvers will send the satellite into an orbit with a perigee of less than 600 kilometers and an apogee of 800 kilometers — an orbit that will cause the satellite to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up within 25 years, the agency said.
A group of spacefaring nations has set guidelines to mitigate the creation of man-made debris in Earth orbit. For satellites in low orbit — where most Earth observation satellites operate, and where orbital debris is of most concern — the guidelines call for retired spacecraft to be moved to graveyard positions to permit their destruction within 25 years of retirement.
While Spot 2 was launched well before the orbital-debris guidelines were formed in 2002, CNES is already applying these rules and in 2003 placed the older Spot 1 spacecraft into a similar graveyard orbit.
CNES said Spot 2, which has been operated commercially by the Spot Image company of Toulouse, France, has taken some 6.5 million images. Spot Image stopped using Spot 2 June 30 in preparation for its retirement.
The Spot 3 satellite, launched in 1993, failed in orbit in 1997 and is no longer in service. Spot Image continues to use the Spot 4 and Spot 5 satellites for commercial imagery sales.