Aeolus, a controlled return of the Windcatcher satellite

Aeolus, a controlled return of the Windcatcher satellite

Its mission will conclude by summer with the orderly return to Earth of — the first of its kind — the Aeolus wind trapper, a satellite launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2018 to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts with the Aladin instrument. (Atmospheric LAser Doppler INstrument), built at Leonardo’s factories in Campi Bisenzio and Pomezia.

After exceeding the three predetermined years in orbit by 18 months, the 1,360-kilogram satellite has run out of fuel: on April 30 it officially ended operations and is now preparing to return safely to the ocean, minimizing risks
Fragments falling on the mainland. “The exact details of the re-entry approach and the series of maneuvers and operations, as well as a more detailed timetable, will be announced in mid-June: for the time being, we can expect that we are targeting the best oceanic corridor for re-entry,” explains Expedition Director Tommaso Parinello.

After five years of science producing exciting data, in recent months Aeolus had to consume more fuel than expected to stay in orbit due to intense solar activity thickening its atmosphere.
Over the next few weeks, the satellite will naturally decrease from 320 to 280 kilometers in altitude. Then, operators at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mission Control Center in Darmstadt, Germany, will gradually bring it to within 150 kilometers of the Earth’s surface. Aeolus will then burn to about 80 kilometers.

Since populated areas make up a relatively small percentage of the Earth’s surface, the chance of returning to cause damage is very low. However, engineers have carefully considered how best to position Aeolus to ensure that it returns to the open ocean, minimizing the risk of debris falling to Earth. The exact date of return will vary according to solar activity, but it will likely happen before the end of August.
The Aladdin instrument has already been set into a special mode that will allow during the re-entry phase to collect scientific data useful for the upcoming Aeolus 2 mission.

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