I was one of the lucky few to have been invited to the SocialSpace event of ESA for the Aeolus launch.
The Aeolus mission is part of the Earth Explorers’missions of ESA designed to measure winds across the globe to understand winds better and most importantly of all to improve weather predictions. The winds are measured with a new invented laser which took years to develop. Aerosols were the key answer to the difficult task to develop this laser. Aerosols are dust particles or liquid droplets in the air. Aeolus is also a demonstrator for future wind missions. It’s a 3 year mission.
On the ESA website there’s a lot of information about the mission. Aeolus mission
The launch was planned for Tuesday evening (21 August 2018) on a Vega rocket from the launch site at Kourou (French Guinea). The evening before the launch we got an email that the launch was delayed because of high winds on the launch site! But the SocialSpace event took place anyway. There were about 18 people from different countries (Germany, France, England, Turkey, Venezuela, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Greece). We got to see a lot of interesting sites and rooms at ESOC in Darmstadt.
Earth Explorers Control Room
The missions which are led here are: Cryosat (ice and sea levels), Swarm (magnetic field), Sentinel and of course Aeolus. Copernicus was controlled in another room. It takes about 3 hours between sensing and releasing forecasts. The data us uploaded and downloaded from 2 stations in Sweden and Norway. The satellite is the most visible for those two norhtern stations.
Astronomy Missions Control Room:
GAIA, XMM, Integral (gamma ray). The GAIA mission is the most famous of these 3 missions. It has already mapped more than a billion stars. The Integral mission detected the collision of the two neutron stars which lead to the detection of gravitational waves. This led to an increased interest in ESA Science.
At Flight dynamics we got an interesting presentation about reaching the right orbit and trajectory of satellites. Aeolus will stay in a low orbit of 320 km. This causes more friction which leads to a height lose of 200m per week. So the satellite needs weekly adjustments of the altitude and uses more fuel therefore than the other Earth observation satellites (most at 600 km altitude).
Planetary Missions Control Room:
Rosetta, Cluster, Mars Express, Bepi Colombo (which will be launched in October), Exomars, Solar Orbiter (future mission), Juice (future mission). These missions have long ground passes (as opposed to Earth Explorers). So the engineers plan commands to be send to the orbiters in advance. The next mission Bepi Colombo will use a couple of Venus flybys to reach enough momentum to reach Mercury. We also visited the Bepi Colombo Engineering Model at ESOC. It stood in Friedrichshafen since 2015 and was moved to ESOC a couple of weeks ago. They can use it for testing and troubleshooting. It has the same components and software as the real orbiter.
Space Debris office
There are 20,000 known pieces of space debris of about 10 by 10 cm by name and trajectory. It’s impossible to do this for the smaller pieces. Space debris can damage satellites and the ISS so it’s important what the chance is of a collision so they can react if necessary. There are two areas with the most space debris, the first around 600 km and the second one concerns the geostationary orbit (GEO; 36,000 km) where most communications satellites are.
This is a piece of solar arrays of the Hubble telescope which was hit by a tiny piece of space debris.
From here the satellite deployment and the first days after the launch are monitored.
Presentation Aeolus mission
We concluded this amazing and super interesting afternoon with a presentation by the Mission Manager (Rune Floberghafen), a mission scientist (Anne Grete Straume) and Satellite manager (Frank de Bruin).
First designs go back 18 years ago. Designing the laser was the most difficult part.
The satellite took the boat to Kourou. They couldn’t risk damaging the measuring instruments.
The Vega rocket is assembled in the launch tower as opposed to other launcher like Ariane 5. The Vega rocket can stay out for 14 days.
It was another fantastic SocialSpace event where I learned new things and met new and interesting people.