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Solar Orbiter ready for emergency scenarios amidst close encounter with Sol
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Solar Orbiter ready for emergency scenarios amidst close encounter with Sol
by Erica Marchand
Paris, France (SPX) Apr 02, 2024

ESA's mission control team is on high alert as the Solar Orbiter embarks on its critical journey near the Sun, entering a phase of intense scientific activity and potential hazards. The spacecraft's proximity to our star during its perihelion introduces a heightened risk of operational complications, prompting extensive preparations to safeguard its mission and scientific yield.

Daniel Lakey, a flight controller at ESA's ESOC mission control center, outlines the dire circumstances that could arise if the Solar Orbiter encounters onboard difficulties, potentially severing communication with Earth. During perihelion, the spacecraft is subjected to complex maneuvers and heightened activity, making any disruption particularly detrimental to its mission.

Should the spacecraft falter, it's programmed to enter 'safe mode,' where only essential functions are maintained while it awaits further instructions from Earth. This automatic response is critical, especially during perihelion, as the spacecraft operates with reduced power due to the necessity of angling its solar panels away from the Sun to prevent damage.

The recovery from such an event hinges on the spacecraft's ability to reorient itself towards Earth, using basic Sun sensors and star trackers to ensure its vital heat shield is correctly positioned and communication with mission control can be reestablished.

Innovatively, if standard orientation methods fail, the Solar Orbiter is equipped to perform 'strobing,' a contingency procedure where it emits a distinctive signal while rotating, enabling ground stations to locate and reinitiate contact with the spacecraft.

This emergency communication strategy, along with other potential recovery operations, was recently tested by ESA teams to validate their readiness to handle unexpected scenarios. These tests confirmed the mission's preparedness to tackle challenges that may arise during Solar Orbiter's close encounters with the Sun, highlighting the meticulous planning and adaptability inherent in managing space missions of this complexity.

Related Links
Solar Orbiter at ESA
Solar Science News at SpaceDaily

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