The satellite was only supposed to last two years. But it’s still healthy at 20.
Canada’s Scisat is defying all lifetime expectations at a crucial time in human history, helping track the effects of human-driven climate change. Throughout its long lifespan — its 20th launch anniversary fell on Aug. 12 — Scisat has been providing consistent data to help us heal Earth’s atmosphere, if we take the time to pay attention.
Three things have allowed the Canadian Space Agency
to keep operating the satellite for so long, program lead Marcus Dejmek told Space.com. First, the satellite needs little fuel to stay stable in its orbit. Data products are also constantly tweaked to track more gases and chemical species, even with aging (if healthy) instruments. Finally, a fit satellite and constant updates together allow Scisat to deliver relevant products for its users, driving enough demand to keep government budgets flowing.
“Also, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t say that part of this answer was to have a dedicated group of staff that operate and understand the spacecraft hardware over time,” Dejmek emphasized. Just like a car, satellites need servicing, but instead of oil changes, the little Scisat receives software updates and hardware adjustments. “The people there are just great, and they’re the frontline of the success.”
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Scisat was developed and built for $63 million CAD in 2003 (roughly $97 million CAD or $71 million USD at today’s rates, although inflation differs between the two countries.) NASA flew it for free on Pegasus, which is an air-launched rocket now operated by Northrop Grumman. That flight was in exchange for Canada’s robotics contributions to the space shuttle program (the spacecraft was still running then) and the International Space Station, which pays for science and astronaut seats.
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