The USGS reports today that the 27-year-old Landsat 5 Earth observation satellite has a degrading electronic component that is preventing the satellite from transmitting images to ground stations. The fluctuating performance of this component has been monitored over the past few months and over the last ten days the data downlink capacity has dramatically worsened.
This is not the first time that the satellite has had technical problems as there were issues with key subsystems back in 2001 that the USGS was able to work around. Engineering and technical adjustments are helping the satellite sustain a limited capacity, but the satellite may be a total loss. To help avert this possible eventuality, the USGS has taken the satellite offline for 90 days in order to explore all possible options to restore functionality.
It’s really remarkable that the satellite has lasted this long, given its design to fulfill a three-year mission. The failure and fluctuation of this important monitoring tool places more emphasis on the importance of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, with its planned launch date of December 2012.