The European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully decommissioned its Aeolus satellite through an assisted reentry maneuver. The satellite, launched in 2018, was equipped with powerful laser technology capable of observing wind patterns on a global scale, which improved weather forecasts and climate models over its 5-year mission.
Typically, when satellites are no longer operational, they fall out of orbit and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. However, ESA took this opportunity to test an assisted reentry maneuver, where the satellite was gradually deorbited, allowing for a controlled reentry into the atmosphere.
This assisted reentry maneuver enabled ESA to accurately calculate the satellite’s trajectory, ensuring that it would ultimately burn up over Antarctica, far from any populated areas. Approximately 80% of the satellite disintegrated upon reentry, while 20% survived, according to Space.com.
By opting for an assisted reentry, ESA significantly reduced the risk of any surviving debris landing near populated areas. In fact, the agency stated that the risk of such debris causing harm was made 150 times less likely. Additionally, this approach minimized the time the satellite spent uncontrolled in orbit, reducing the risk of collisions with other satellites.
The decommissioning of the Aeolus satellite highlights the increasing importance of addressing the issue of space debris. As the number of active satellites in orbit continues to rise, there is a growing risk of collisions and the potential for space debris to fall to Earth. ESA acknowledges the need for safer space missions and is taking steps to mitigate these risks.
Ensuring the safety of space missions and minimizing the impact of space debris is a priority for ESA. The successful assisted reentry of the Aeolus satellite demonstrates a commitment to sustainable spaceflight and responsible operations. As ESA continues to monitor and manage its space assets, it aims to make satellite decommissioning as safe as possible.