Report: Defunct Envisat Exacerbates Orbital Debris Problem


On April 8, 2012, the European Space Agency lost contact with Envisat. Investigations have been performed to interpret status information collected about the spacecraft. Results show that the satellite is on its nominal orbit and in one piece, but in an unexpected orientation.

A new report by specialty insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty says the recently decommissioned Envisat satellite now represents a “major orbital debris threat.”

The white paper, “Space Risks: A New Generation of Challenges,” points out that, according to space debris experts, if Envisat remains inert, it will take up to 150 years for its orbit debris to decay naturally, given its orbit and its area-to-mass ratio.

The European Space Agency notes there’s a 30 percent chance of a collision between Envisat and orbital debris over this time-span, without the possibility of performing collision avoidance maneuvers. Were a collision to take place, it would create a large debris field, depending on the characteristics of the collision, and would increase the threat of debris collision with other satellites.

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