“So long and thanks for the… ” data: missions that failed during 2011

It’s been a year of goodbyes for the EO community it seems. So here is a summary of some of the missions we said goodbye to in 2011.

ALOS PALSAR: Japan’s L-band SAR mission stopped operations in May when the ALOS mission was terminated. Launched in 2006 the sucessor to JERS-1 provided data for a range of applications including forest mapping, digital elevation model generation, earthquake monitoring and disaster relief. PRISM and AVNIR-2 were also carried on ALOS (also known as DAICHI). We look forward to the launch of ALOS-2 in January 2013.

An ALOS PALSAR Pauli basis (l), Freeman-Durden decomposition (centre) and Span image (r).

AMSR-E, high resolution passive microwave radiometer. Launched in 2002 on Aqua, AMSR-E provided emissivity and brightness temperature data for climatology and cryospheric applications. Glaciologists have used AMSR-E data widely for investigations of snow properties, sea ice concentrations and melt monitoring. AMSR2 will succeed AMSR-E in early 2012 (hopefully).

Landsat-5, possibly the oldest EO platform ever, started showing signs of old age in October. 27 years old, the mission appears to be at the end of it’s very successful life. Landsat-5 TM data have provided important data continuity for mapping operations and an important complement to Landsat-7 ETM+ following the SLC failure in 2003.

ERS-2 ceased operations on 5th September having provided 20 years of data with its predecessor ERS-1. ERS-2 provided surface temperature data with AATSR, MERIS Visible-Infrared imagery, Radar Altimeter observations of ocean and ice sheet surface heights (RA2) and Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery. ERS-1 and -2 set the standard for SAR missions, providing high quality observations for a wide range of applications. ERS SAR data provided a unique potential for polar observations.

A mosaic of ERS SAR images over Greenland. The dark areas in central Greenland are the dry snow zone where the surface never melts.

Glory, the NASA mission that never was. Glory, an atmospheric monitoring mission, suffered a launch failure in March. Glory’s greatest legacy might be the complication of future NASA EO missions.

The Shuttle ended its service in July after 30 years of missions. EO highlights included the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM). In fact not a lot of EO was done in those 30 years (though to be fair EO wasn’t the Shuttle’s primary mission). Personally I was never convinced that the Shuttle was value for money: it never achieved the launch frequency it was designed for. However, it certainly provided a useful platform for delivering and repairing payloads.

The Surface Height of New Zealand mapped by SRTM (Courtesy of NASA JPL/Caltech)

On a final note I did a quick check of the EO portal directory. At a glance it appears that 2011 was a particularly bad year for EO missions, with more major missions failing than in previous years.

This entry was posted in Misc. Information, Remote Sensing, SAR, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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