ESA’s Groundbreaking Venture: Guiding Aeolus Home, A Leap Forward in Satellite Safety

Aeolus Satellite

Right now, the European Space Agency (ESA) is embarking on an incredible voyage, seeking to unravel the intriguing secrets of the cosmos. This is truly a moment in history being written by their pioneering efforts. Their defunct satellite, Aeolus, is being coaxed back to Earth, a first-ever initiative for a satellite not initially designed for controlled reentry. This novel endeavour offers exciting possibilities for the future of space debris management.

Aeolus started its gradual descent from its duty-bound altitude of 320 kilometers above the Earth on June 19, after successfully completing its mission. By July 24, when it had reached 280 kilometers, mission controllers started using the last drops of Aeolus’s fuel for a series of essential manoeuvres. These carefully planned steps are gently nudging the satellite back towards Earth and could set a new gold standard for how we retire our space explorers.

The final orchestrated move will take place on July 28, as per the ESA’s plan. On this day, Aeolus will be guided from 150 kilometers to a mere 120 kilometers above Earth. This is when our brave satellite will begin its daring dive back into Earth’s atmosphere. At around 80 kilometers up, Aeolus will mostly burn up, with just a few resilient fragments possibly surviving all the way to the Earth’s surface.

The mission’s meticulous safety measures dictate that any surviving fragments should splash down harmlessly in a remote part of the Atlantic Ocean. This area was chosen for its excellent visibility during the last leg of Aeolus’s homeward journey, aiding in the careful monitoring of its final descent.

ESA reassures us that the risk from returning satellites is typically minimal. But this ground-breaking effort could decrease such risk by an incredible 42 times, underscoring the importance and the potential benefits of these new controlled satellite reentry practices.

Kicked off its journey in 2018, Aeolus inherited its name from a charismatic character in Greek mythology, who was seen as the master of all winds. The satellite created its own gust in the world of weather forecasting as it was the first to take direct global wind speed and direction measurements, leading to significant improvements in worldwide weather forecasts.

Recent data from the European Space Debris Office reveals that as of January 2023, Earth’s orbit is cluttered with around 34,000 objects larger than 10 cm, including decommissioned satellites and fragments from disintegration and collisions. If Aeolus ends up being a success, it could be our compass, guiding us on how to deal with space junk. It could help lessen the dangers and lead us into a fresh phase of caring for our cosmic backyard in a more responsible way.

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