Scientists Prepare to Safely Bring Dead Satellite Back to Earth
In a groundbreaking move, scientists are gearing up for a unique operation to safely bring a defunct satellite back to Earth. The European Space Agency’s wind-monitoring Aeolus spacecraft, which played a vital role in accurately measuring Earth’s winds from space starting in 2018, has now reached the end of its operational life.
Aeolus, dubbed the first satellite ever to gauge Earth’s winds from space, has significantly enhanced global weather forecasts during its five-year mission. Its impact on weather forecasting has been unparalleled since its launch. However, the satellite was deactivated in July and has been steadily descending towards Earth ever since.
To ensure a controlled re-entry, scientists are planning to employ the remaining fuel on the satellite to guide it towards a safe landing. This unprecedented operation is set to commence on July 24 and will involve a series of maneuvers to lower the satellite’s altitude. The final maneuver is scheduled for July 28.
Aeolus’s descent corridor will lead it over the Atlantic Ocean, where ground-based radar systems will closely track its progress. It is estimated that only 20% of the satellite will make it through the rigorous re-entry process, with the remaining 80% disintegrating in Earth’s atmosphere.
Despite the lack of a specific landing zone, this operation holds great significance. The mission aims to develop re-entry strategies for satellites, tackling the mounting issue of space debris. Currently, around 100 tons of human-made space debris plummet to Earth annually, and this figure is projected to rise with the increasing number of objects launched into space.
By conducting a guided return of Aeolus, scientists hope to lay the groundwork for future operations that guarantee controlled re-entry of spacecraft. This will provide crucial insights to mitigate the risks associated with space debris, ensuring the sustainable and responsible utilization of space surrounding our planet.
With its invaluable contribution to weather forecasting and its pivotal role in setting the foundation for future space operations, Aeolus’s upcoming re-entry serves as a testament to humanity’s commitment to cleaner, safer space exploration.
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