British-built satellite successfully returned to Earth in assisted crash

Aeolus has provided data to weather centres across Europe since 2018.

A British-built weather-monitoring spacecraft has been deliberately crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in a first-of-its-kind mission.

Aeolus, a satellite which has provided valuable data to weather centres across Europe since 2018, was successfully assisted to its final resting place by mission controllers at the European Space Agency (ESA).

At around 7pm UK time on Friday, the ESA’s Space Debris Office said it had entered the atmosphere, making it the first time a dead satellite has been guided to perform an assisted crash on Earth.

Under normal circumstances, Aeolus would naturally fall back to Earth, burning up in the planet’s atmosphere after reaching an altitude of around 50 miles.

Simulations by the ESA before the crash suggested some debris may have survived the burn, although the risk of causing any damage was small.

(PA Graphics)

The space agency instead decided to use what little fuel remained onboard to steer Aeolus back to Earth.

It also intends to gather data for future satellite re-entries while setting a precedent for nations and organisations to follow suit.

The ESA said: “The Aeolus mission control team in Germany is now wrapping up after a long week of complex operations.

“They have done everything they planned in what is a first-of-its-kind assisted re-entry. Aeolus – a mission that revolutionised wind profiling – is now out of their hands.”

The 1,360kg Aeolus spacecraft was built by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage and is the first satellite mission to acquire profiles of Earth’s wind on a global scale.

Aeolus was slated to last three years but it outlasted its mission by nearly two years.

The spacecraft had been falling from its operational altitude since June 19 and performed its first major re-entry manoeuvre on July 24.

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