ESA's Aeolus Satellite Safely Completes Return, Marking the End of a Remarkable 5-Year Mission

31 July 2023

After its remarkable five years in orbit, ESA’s Aeolus wind satellite made its return to Earth. The successful re-entry of Aeolus, as it nears the end of its operational life, mark an of extraordinary milestone, that Telespazio is thrilled to provide the support on the first-of-its-kind assisted re-entry mission

Throughout its remarkable 5-year journey, Aeolus has revolutionised weather forecasts worldwide, providing invaluable wind profile data that has significantly improved meteorological predictions.

Telespazio has been involved in the Aeolus mission since its launch in 2018, playing a pivotal role in preparing for the satellite's assisted re-entry. Our colleagues have been supporting ESA  in all different aspects during launch and early orbit phase (LEOP): from simulation, through launch, flight dynamics, ground segment to flight control teams have been instrumental in the mission's success.

On Monday, 24 July, when Aeolus reached 280 km, the team sprang into action, orchestrating the first of several crucial manoeuvres that would gently steer the satellite. Friday, 28 July, was marked as a defining day for the mission. The final command, carefully designed and meticulously tested, guided Aeolus from an altitude of 150 km to a mere 120 km above Earth, signalling the beginning of the re-entry process. As the satellite descended to approximately 80 km, the majority of it burned up and the mission was a success!

No less exciting and challenging than LEOP, the entire operation required the flight control team to maintain contact with the spacecraft as much as possible with a lot of real-time commanding.

“The entire operation was complicated and meant to be flying the spacecraft in an environment for which it was not designed. The biggest challenge for me was to update the on-board autonomy which is very complex and to manage the limited resources of the computer, like real-time transmission bandwidth or mass memory”. – Emanuele Lovera – Telespazio Germany’s Data Handling Engineer

Another important aspect of the mission is the simulation of Aeolus, enabling the team to predict and react quickly to various scenarios during the re-entry process. With a "pretend" Aeolus and ground system in place, the simulation allowed the team to feel as if they were dealing with the real spacecraft, enabling them to train extensively for every conceivable situation.

As we farewell to this remarkable mission with the historic achievements of the Aeolus satellite, its re-entry set new example of re-entering a spacecraft safety. We are honoured to have contributed to this mission and look forward to the possibilities that lie ahead.

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