05 April 2017 News

The final journey for EUMETSAT’s oldest operational meteorological satellite

The last image of the Indian Ocean region taken by Meteosat-7 on 31 March at 11:30 to 12:00 UTC. Image EUMETSAT
The last image of the Indian Ocean region taken by Meteosat-7 on 31 March at 11:30 to 12:00 UTC. Image EUMETSAT

What happens to a satellite when it has reached the end of its life? For EUMETSAT’s oldest operational meteorological satellite, Meteosat-7, it is on its way to its final resting place in the “graveyard orbit” in the skies.

Launched on 2 September 1997, Meteosat-7 was developed under the Meteosat Transition Programme (MTP), and was part of a pioneering geostationary weather programme that shaped the success story of satellite meteorology in Europe.

With almost 20 years in orbit, Meteosat-7 has had the longest operational lifetime of any European meteorological satellite, quite a feat considering its initial expected lifetime was just five years.

Meteosat-7 was designed to be a gap filler between Meteosat Operational Programmes and provided the prime 0° longitude Full Earth Scan Service until it was replaced by Meteosat-8 in 2006.

It then became the prime provider of the Indian Ocean Data Coverage (IODC) Service until 1 February 2017. Now, with thrusters firing, the satellite will undergo a series of “burn manoeuvres" every half an orbit, to increase its altitude in stages as it is pushed out towards the rather solemnly named region known as the “graveyard orbit,” to live out the rest of its days.

The graveyard orbit is a region 36,000km above Earth where old satellites are sent so that they will no longer pose a threat to those still in service.

Some low-Earth orbiting satellites are now required to reserve some fuel, so at the end of their mission they can be disposed of as they re-enter and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. However, for high-flying satellites such as Meteosat-7, it would require the satellite to carry too much propellant, making it to heavy, so this is not an option.

It is estimated that the number of satellites in the graveyard orbit is possibly already in the hundreds and this will only increase as many more new spacecraft are launched each year. Engineers are therefore looking at ways to resolve the problem of space debris, which is now becoming a major problem.

Popular articles

Popular articles

Diffuse, water-ice clouds, a hazy sky and a light breeze. Such might have read a weather forecast for the Tharsis volcanic region on Mars on 22 November 2016, when this image was taken by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Space Science

When it comes to water Mars may not be the promised land

SLS Block 1, the initial configuration of NASA’s new super heavy lift launch vehicle, will be able to lift at least 70 metric tons to low Earth orbit and is the cornerstone of a new deep space exploration system. Special Reports

SLS ushers transformation of deep space exploration

When the US transcontinental railroad was being contemplated, regional rail providers had limited and isolated markets that were successful but not scalable – when it comes to the exploitation of space resources there may be modern day economic paral Astronautics

Maximising the economic opportunities of deep space