An apparent massive short-circuit shut down a U.S. ocean-monitoring satellite late Monday evening and project officials at the Jet Propultion Laboratory in Pasadena spent all of yesterday trying to re-establish contact with the $75 million spacecraft.
"If we can't raise it [make contact] during the night," a JPL spokesman said, "we may have to bury it sometimes Wednesday," which meant the satellite may have to be written off as a total loss.
The satellite is Seasat-A, an unmanned, 5,050-pound vehicle carrying scientific instruments to measure ocean currents, tides, waves, surface temperatures, cloud patterns and ice fields. It was launched into space last June 26.
The information that scientists had hoped to receive from Seasat-A during its planned one-year lifetime was expected to provide new insights into the forces driving the earth's ocean systems.
The satellite had been operating normally inits 500-mile-high orbits, according to the JPL, and was transsmitting data to a tracking station in Australia when it developed trouble just before midnight on Monday.
The last few bits of telemetry data received from Seasat showed that something was pulling an abnormally large current flow out of its batteries, an indication of an electrical short-circuit. Then the Seasat abruptly ceased all further transmissions.
Although personnel at several tracking stations thought that they might have detected faint signals from the Seasat yesterday, these later proved to be signals from another, normally-functioning satellite.
JPL engineers were trying to identify the problem so that they might possibly radio corrective instructions to the stricken spacecraft. But as time went on, the chances of resurrecting the Seasat's batteries diminished.