Assisted reentry: ESA’s satellite likely to fall over Atlantic Ocean on July 28

If all goes as planned, it will be a significant milestone in spaceflight. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Aeolus satellite.
Aeolus satellite.


The European Space Agency's (ESA) wind satellite Aeolus will fall back into the Earth on Friday, July 28. 

Currently, the space agency is directing the satellite in the first-ever assisted reentry mission. The ESA will “control as much as possible Aeolus’ fall,” mentioned the official release

The reentry is expected to occur over the Atlantic Ocean. However, the precise position is not confirmed yet. 

The assisted-reentry

The ESA's Space Operations Centre in Germany guides and tracks the satellite's return. 

“Aeolus is repeatedly turned, or ‘slewed’ by 180° to switch from the routine orientation (or ‘attitude’), in which the satellite’s ‘X-band’ antenna points toward Earth and the GPS can function to track the mission – crucial to maintaining knowledge of its position – and the ‘retrograde’ attitude,” explained ESA blog. 

This will allow the satellite to turn upside down and use thrusters to reduce its orbit.

Since June 19, the satellite has been falling by around one kilometer per day from its operating orbit height of 320 km. 

Aeolus performed its first reentry maneuver on Monday, July 24, which reduced the height to 155 miles (250 kilometers). 

Four additional burning maneuvers are expected on Thursday, July 27, which will help to decrease the orbit further. 

"A final command [on July 28] will guide Aeolus home from an altitude of 150 km to just 120 km [93 to 75 miles]. Then, the satellite will reenter," mentioned the ESA's live blog. 

Reentry will most likely take place over the Atlantic Ocean roughly five hours after the spacecraft receives the last maneuver order. 

The exact reentry position is yet to be confirmed

Following the last commands, Aeolus will enter the “passivation” state, where all energy aboard the spacecraft will be turned off. This state may help to avoid the possibility of any "explosions and fragmentation events," which would otherwise result in the release of large chunks of space debris.

Most of this satellite's parts will burn up during the violent atmospheric reentry to Earth, while some will fall into a stretch of the ocean just below the Aeolus's trajectory. 

Initially, this satellite was not designed for aided reentry. In recent years, only assisted reentry of rockets over a designated open ocean region has taken place.

If all goes as planned, it will be a significant milestone in spaceflight. 

This 3,000-pound (1,360 kilograms) satellite was launched in 2018. The wind monitoring satellite was supposed to last three years, but Aeolus outlived its mission life and orbited our planet for nearly five years.

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