Unprecedented maneuver to bring a European Space Agency satellite back to Earth

Europe’s Aeolus satellite has “successfully” returned to Earth after completing its space mission in orbit, in an unprecedented move to reduce the risk of falling satellite debris on the Earth’s surface. The European Space Agency announced on Saturday that the satellite, launched in 2018 to monitor the wind, entered the atmosphere in a controlled manner after several days of maneuvers aimed at lowering its orbit. Solo, which weighed just over a ton and operated at an altitude of 320 kilometers, gradually descended to an altitude of 120 kilometers, then entered the atmosphere and crashed. Benjamin Bastion, space debris engineer at the European Space Agency, told AFP: “Aeolus managed to enter the trajectory we were setting over Antarctica, where it lives the smallest population in the world.”

Controlled atmospheric auxiliary maneuvers are common with modern satellites, and as they approach the end of their work, they are removed from orbit and directed toward a very specific area on Earth, the South Pacific Nemo Point. But Aeolus was designed in the late nineties and “didn’t have enough thrust” to get his fall under full control and target the exact point, the engineer said. At an altitude of 120 kilometers, the moon’s landing was not fully controlled, and there was a risk that its debris -Specifically, the non-burning parts of the atmosphere-Could cause damage to Earth.

Although this risk is limited, the European Space Agency wanted to reduce it “as much as possible” in order to “demonstrate its commitment to debris-neutral missions”, the agency’s 2030 target. Bastida said radars were unable to detect whether a quantity of Aeolus debris had entered the atmosphere. If the moon had not been removed from its orbit, it would have fallen naturally within two or three months in an uncontrollable way. Dominique Guillermo, director of the European Space Agency’s scientific programs for Earth observation, said the crashed moon mission was a “pioneer” in wind measurement and contributed to “improving weather forecasts”. A second mission for the European satellite Aeolus is currently being prepared.

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