Aeolus Satellite

Aeolus is a 1360-kilogram satellite launched into space by the European Space Agency (ESA) in an Earth Explorer research mission to demonstrate new space technology. This is the pioneering satellite mission that collected global profiles of Earth’s wind, which is used to enhance weather forecasts and climate models. The satellite is equipped with a single, large instrument – a Doppler wind lidar – that measures the winds circulating around the planet. The initial mission duration of Aeolus in space was three years, and it became one of the highest impact-per-observation weather satellites. After five years, the spacecraft is now losing its fuel, and its tanks are almost depleted.

Current State of Aeolus

As the spacecraft orbits the Earth at an altitude of 320 km, Earth’s wispy atmosphere is pulling the satellite towards it. The spacecraft Aeolus is being propelled by plasma waves originating from the Sun as they sweep by the Earth. In the past few months, due to the heightened solar activity, the satellite has been using an increased amount of fuel to maintain its orbit, which is akin to trying to run against the wind.

End-of-Life Mode

On April 30, 2023, the spacecraft shut down its science operation, and its instruments have been put into a special mode to perform end-of-life activities that will help to prepare the Aeolus-2 follow-on mission. The European Space Agency plans to order Aeolus to descend from 320 km to 280 km in the next few months, after which it will be gradually lowered to 150 km above the Earth’s surface, marking the beginning of its death plunge.

Re-Entry Approach and Timeline

As the satellite descends towards Earth, it is expected to burn up as it descends to around 80 km. Engineers have carefully worked out how to best position Aeolus in Earth’s atmosphere to target open ocean waters upon reentry. It is expected that Aeolus will cease to exist before August ends.



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