Aeolus was in circle around Earth for four years, eleven months, and six days. It was space debris for a brief three hours at the very end. This new animation is based on the last eight images taken by ESA’s wind-profiling mission. During its brief “junk” phase, the images show the spacecraft beginning to fall as it was buffeted by Earth’s atmosphere.
Worldwide guidelines on space flotsam and jetsam relief put down a boundary on how long a satellite ought to wait in circle once its central goal is finished – it mustn’t be longer than 25 years.
When missions fly at low altitudes, they are quickly grasped by Earth’s spherical atmosphere and brought back to Earth, accelerating their return.
Not only was the (already low) risk of falling debris reduced by 150 during Aeolus’s first-ever assisted reentry in July, but the amount of time Aeolus was left uncontrolled in orbit was cut by a few weeks, reducing the likelihood of a collision with other satellites on this essential space highway.
Moving Moments On July 28, 2023, at 17:43 CEST, the Flight Control Team’s last command caused Aeolus to degrade into debris, preventing them from communicating with, hearing from, or influencing the satellite. The team had done everything they could to prepare the satellite for a week of intense and critical operations. The satellite was passivated, or turned off, and “handled over” to the Space Debris Office of the European Space Agency, which followed its final descent.
It was evident that the Tracking and Imaging Radar (TIRA) at Fraunhofer FHR in Germany would have a good view when they examined the ground track (shown on the map below), which indicated the probable route that Aeolus would take over Earth. At approximately 18:20 CEST, TIRA used their 34-m antenna to follow Aeolus for approximately four minutes.
Observations by Spacecraft and Final Reentry “Debris can’t talk, but spacecraft operators are used to talking to their missions. Benjamin Bastida Virgili, an expert in ESA’s Space Debris Office, explains, “These final observations confirmed that Aeolus’s final burn had gone well and that the now “dead” satellite had gotten into the expected elliptical orbit, with a minimum altitude of 120 km.”
“In the event that you consider Aeolus’ way a marginally crushed circle, as opposed to a line, that circle was returning more modest and more roundabout as it, yet its elevation would in any case go all over. We utilized this circle data to register another gauge of Aeolus’ reemergence time, which happened a little more than two hours after the fact and on our arranged ground track.”
Aeolus was last seen by the mission teams at this point. It only took two hours for it to break apart in the Earth’s atmosphere over Antarctica, far from areas where people live.
Aeolus transformed into a fireball, a temporary shooting star in the atmosphere, around 20:40 CEST for approximately two minutes.
According to Aeolus Mission Manager Tommaso Parrinello, “normally, once a mission goes into the nose of its rocket and the fairing closes around it, that’s the last time we expect to ever see it.”
“We stayed with the mission for as long as we could with Aeolus, in a remarkable example of sustainable spaceflight and responsible operations, and guided its return in as much as it was possible to do. These images are our final farewell to the mission we all miss, but whose legacy lives on.”