Solar Orbiter makes its final and riskiest flyby of Earth: Details Inside
According to ESA, this manoeuvre was the riskiest flyby yet for a science mission as the spacecraft passed through the clouds of space debris around Earth.
The European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter has made its final Earth flyby today, 27 November, at 04:30 GMT (05:30 CET) and is now on its way to the next close pass of the Sun.
During this Earth flyby, the spacecraft was at its closest approach, just 460 km above North Africa and the Canary Islands. The flyby was essential to decrease the energy of the spacecraft and line it up for its next close pass of the Sun.
According to ESA, this manoeuvre was the riskiest flyby yet for a science mission as the spacecraft passed through the clouds of space debris around Earth. The spacecraft travelled twice through the Geostationary ring at 36 000 kilometres from Earth's surface and even through Low-Earth orbit, below 2000 kilometres - two regions littered with space junk.
#SolarOrbiter is out of the #spacedebris danger zone following its close #EarthFlyby and on its way to the next close pass of the #Sun next year 😎 Thank you @esaoperations! 👇https://t.co/dMtucvQeIj https://t.co/HVil4dh4CS— ESA's Solar Orbiter (@ESASolarOrbiter) November 27, 2021
"The chance that ESA's Solar Orbiter spacecraft will encounter space debris during its upcoming Earth flyby is very, very low. However, the risk is not zero and is greater than any other flyby ESA has performed," ESA said in a statement on Friday.
Launched in February 2020, Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA which will study the connection between the Sun and the Earth and also address big questions in Solar System science.
During its mission, Solar Orbiter will use a combination of ten remote-sensing and in situ instruments that will operate continuously to observe the turbulent solar surface features including the solar wind, the heliospheric magnetic field, solar energetic particles, transient interplanetary disturbances, and the Sun's magnetic field.