European meteorological satellite burns down over Antarctica

ESA reported on the successful completion of the experiment on the safe descent from orbit of the Aeolus satellite. On July 28, it entered the atmosphere over Antarctica. 

Aeolus satellite in the artist’s image. Source: ESA/ATG medialab

Aeolus was launched in 2018. It became the first satellite in history designed to conduct global observations of winds in the earth’s atmosphere. To do this, scientists used an ALADIN ultraviolet laser installed on board.

The nominal scientific program of Aeolus was designed for 3 years. In reality, the spacecraft has been working for almost 5 years, collecting a lot of very valuable data that has significantly increased the accuracy of weather forecasts. Aeolus could have continued its observations further, but, unfortunately, it has almost exhausted its fuel reserves. In this situation, ESA decided to use Aeolus for a controlled atmospheric re-entry experiment. Thus, the space agency wanted to avoid the risk of falling unburned fragments of a 1200-kilogram spacecraft in a populated area.

The experiment began on July 24. During the first maneuver, Aeolus reduced the altitude of its orbit from 280 to 250 km. In the following days, the spacecraft performed several more maneuvers that lowered its altitude to 150 km. On July 28, Aeolus activated its engines for the last time. This final maneuver ensured the entry of the satellite into the atmosphere over Antarctica. Even if some fragments of Aeolus managed to reach the earth’s surface, they fell in an unpopulated area.

It is curious that during these events, the Japanese Himawari-8 weather satellite managed to photograph a flash over Antarctica. Presumably, it captured the moment of the combustion of Aeolus.

In its final statement, ESA expressed satisfaction with the results of the operation. Of course, the probability of burning satellite debris in a populated area was initially small — but by taking Aeolus out of orbit, the space agency completely eliminated all risks. ESA has also confirmed its commitment to the recent Zero Debris Charter initiative.Its main goal is to stop the formation of new space debris in the most important orbits after 2030.

According to

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