With hopes fading fast for the crippled Earth-observing satellite Envisat, researchers are warning that delays to its replacements will leave Europe lacking vital monitoring data for years to come.
Launched in 2002, Envisat is the largest environmental satellite ever built and the mainstay of the Earth-observing programme for the European Space Agency (ESA). The 8.2-tonne satellite has 10 instruments with which to take the planet's pulse, including radars, infrared and optical imagers, and spectrometers.
Controllers at ESA unexpectedly lost contact with the 2.3-billion (US$3-billion) behemoth on 8 April. Failure of either the satellite's main computer or its power system is thought to be to blame, according to Manfred Warhaut, head of ESA's mission operations department in Darmstadt, Germany. 'It's not looking promising,' he says.