Taking down Envisat model

The Netherlands’ Noordwijk coast lost a local landmark recently as a full-scale model of Europe’s largest ever environmental satellite was removed from the visitor centre for ESA’s technical heart.

The eight-tonne Envisat satellite was launched in 2002. Carrying 10 instruments, the lorry-sized satellite spent a decade monitoring the terrestrial environment, paving the way for Europe’s current Sentinel series.

This metal and plastic replica was installed outside Space Expo – the visitor centre for ESA’s ESTEC technical centre – in July 1999, but it eventually fell prey to the terrestrial environment: years of exposure to North Sea winds led to pieces dropping off.

The decision to dismantle it was taken to prevent it becoming a danger to the public.

The operation began with workers on a cherry picker pulling the main body apart. Then cutting torches split its support structure and solar wings, with an articulated hauler used to pull everything down. The work took place on 18 December.

The actual Envisat – drifting in its 800 km-altitude orbit since contact was lost in 2012 – is itself due for disposal. It is the planned target of ESA’s proposed e.Deorbit mission, intended to pioneer the concept of space debris removal.

Due for launch in 2021, e.Deorbit will rendezvous with the lost satellite and then secure it for a controlled atmospheric reentry.

Space Expo might have lost one attraction, but new ones are arriving regularly – an Ariane 5 Vulcain engine is among its latest acquisitions. Visitors can also book guided tours of the adjoining ESTEC establishment.

A replacement satellite replica is planned to be installed in Envisat’s place, but its identity is yet to be announced.