Canada's RADARSAT-1 to Fill in as ESA's Envisat Service Interrupted

The European Space Agency (ESA) lost contact this week with one of their key earth observation satellites, Envisat, which over its lifespan has provided data to more than 4000 projects in 70 countries. Under a provision with the Canadian Space Agency as part of the Canada - European Space Agency Cooperation Agreement, Canada will provide data from the RADARSAT-1 satellite to fill in the gap for some of ESA's customers.

Canada has a long standing relation with ESA and in 2010 renewed its space partnership with Europe for another 10 years. Included as part of the agreement was an extension for Canada's continued participation in the Envisat mission which Canada has been a key partner since the beginning.

A key technology used by both Envisat and RADARSAT-1 is the synthetic aperture radar (SAR). SAR uses a radar, in this case on the Envisat and RADARSAT-1 satellites, to produce high-resolution images of the surface of the Earth using special signal processing. Canada is recognized as a leader in this field as MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. developed the first digital SAR in 1978.

Envisat, launched in 2002, had a planned lifespan of 5 years but exceeded that by another 5 years and recently celebrated its 10th year of providing data. In that time the satellite has orbited Earth more than 50 000 times delivering thousands of images and a wealth of data for scientists to study.

Envisat is scheduled to be replaced by a new European project which Canada is also participating in, the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program. The first satellite in GMES program is the Sentinel-1 set to launch inn 2013.

While Canada can take pride in its accomplishments, the current budget will see Canada's contribution to Canada/European Space Agency Cooperation Agreement decreased from $47 million this past year to $28 million this year according to estimates released earlier this year. And Canada's follow-up mission to the highly successful RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 satellites, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission faces an uncertain future amid CSA budget cuts and no contracts in place beyond the current design phase which ends this August.

UPDATE 2:30 pm ET: The Canadian Space Agency informs me that negotiations are underway for use of RADARSAT-1 and for RADARSAT-2 data. However negotiations for RADARSAT-2 are being conducted with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. who manage that satellite.