Fri. Sep 29th, 2023
Aeolus Earth Explorer Satellite Captured Tumbling and Fiery Demise

In late July, the European Space Agency (ESA) witnessed the unprecedented controlled reentry of the Aeolus Earth Explorer satellite. The satellite’s final moments were captured through a series of images taken during its tumbling descent through Earth’s atmosphere.

The images were obtained by the Tracking and Imaging Radar (TIRA) at Fraunhofer FHR in Germany. TIRA, equipped with a 110-foot-wide antenna, tracked Aeolus on July 28 as it made its way down for approximately four minutes.

The flight control team sent its last command to Aeolus at 11:34 a.m. ET, marking the end of communication with the satellite. Over the past five years, Aeolus had been orbiting Earth, collecting data on the planet’s winds on a global scale. However, the satellite’s fuel had depleted, and it was being pulled down by gravity and atmospheric drag. In an effort to address the growing issue of space debris, ESA conducted a unique assisted reentry for the defunct satellite.

To ensure a safe reentry, a series of complex maneuvers were executed to lower Aeolus’ orbit from approximately 199 miles to just 75 miles. At around 2:40 p.m. ET, Aeolus transformed into a fireball while descending through Earth’s atmosphere. ESA’s Space Debris Office closely monitored its final descent.

Tommaso Parrinello, the Aeolus mission manager, expressed appreciation for the mission’s sustainable and responsible operations. He remarked that although the mission had come to an end, its legacy would continue.

The controlled reentry of the Aeolus Earth Explorer satellite demonstrates ESA’s commitment to mitigating the problem of space debris. The agency’s efforts contribute to the sustainability and responsible management of spaceflight operations.