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The Upcoming Crash of the European Satellite Aeolus and ESA’s Meticulous Planning for Controlled Re-entry

The European satellite Aeolus is currently on its way to Earth and is expected to crash soon. As the spacecraft’s mission comes to an end, its descent into Earth’s atmosphere, leading to its fiery destruction, was always part of the plan.

ESA’s Role and Planning for Controlled Re-entry

The European Space Agency (ESA) has taken responsibility for overseeing the controlled re-entry of the Aeolus satellite as it completes its five-year mission in space. Since no rules for disposing of satellites at the end of their lives were in place when Aeolus was launched, its natural return to Earth through the atmosphere was the predetermined course of action once it ran out of fuel.

To ensure a controlled descent, ESA has meticulously planned and analyzed a series of maneuvers for the first time. These maneuvers aim to exert as much control as possible over Aeolus’s descent to minimize any potential risks. ESA has divided the re-entry attempt into four main phases, all of which are currently underway at mission control.

Phase I: Testing Large-Scale Movements at Low Altitudes

During this phase, Aeolus was brought down from its initial altitude of 280 km to 250 km. The objective of this maneuver was to observe how the satellite behaves when making significant movements at lower altitudes.

Phase II: Lowering Aeolus’s Closest Point to Earth

In Phase II, a series of four maneuvers were conducted over three to five days to lower Aeolus’s closest point to Earth (perigee) to approximately 150 km. This phase aimed to further control the satellite’s trajectory and descent.

Phase III: Final Maneuver to Achieve a Perigee Altitude of 120 km

In this crucial phase, the final maneuver will bring Aeolus to a perigee altitude of 120 km. By reaching this specific altitude, mission control can optimize the satellite’s descent path.

Final Phase: Short Descent to Space Debris

The last phase of the re-entry process will be the shortest, as Aeolus descends and becomes space debris within a few Earth revolutions. Throughout these phases, mission control will maintain constant communication with the satellite, sending commands and receiving data whenever possible.

To aid the descent, Aeolus undergoes repeated 180-degree turns or ‘slews,’ transitioning between its regular orientation (with its antenna pointing towards Earth) and a ‘retrograde’ attitude. The retrograde position enables the thrusters to fire in the opposite direction of Aeolus’s flight, reducing its energy and lowering its orbit.

While the primary goal is for Aeolus to burn up entirely upon re-entry into the atmosphere, it is crucial for the satellite to remain functional long enough for teams to continue sending commands and guiding its path.

In addition to ensuring the satellite’s controlled disposal, ESA aims to minimize the already low risk of debris impacting people or property on the ground. To achieve this, Aeolus will intentionally crash into the ocean, allowing for valuable data collection regarding future satellite re-entry. This practice will also establish best practices for other spacefaring countries and organizations to follow.

Once all the final commands are issued, Aeolus will be ‘passivated.’ This involves switching off all energy sources onboard, such as propellant or batteries, to prevent any potential explosions.

In such complex situations, an AI legalese decoder could prove invaluable. The AI legalese decoder is a powerful tool that can assist in analyzing and deciphering legal and technical documentation related to satellite missions and re-entry procedures. By utilizing AI technology, the Decoder can swiftly process vast amounts of information, ensuring accurate comprehension of the complex legal frameworks and protocols involved in the safe disposal of satellites like Aeolus. This tool can provide crucial insights to policy-makers, scientists, and mission control teams to enhance their decision-making and mitigate potential risks during future satellite re-entries.

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