European Space Agency (ESA) announced today they have started issuing regular space weather reports for a spacecraft orbiting planet Venus. This is the first time since the exploration of Solar System has begun that a planet, other than Earth, gets a dedicated space weather reporting service.
Ground controllers flying Venus Express spacecraft are now receiving regular daily reports on solar activity issued by experts at ESA’s Space Weather Coordination Centre (SSCC), at the Space Pole in Belgium.
When your spacecraft is surfing deep into the atmosphere of an alien world, you need the latest information on conditions that could affect your trajectory, ESA said today.
Now that Venus Express has completed its eight-year scientific mission, the reports are especially important as the control team take the satellite through an extraordinary two-month ‘aerobraking’ campaign.
“Aerobraking means lowering the spacecraft so that for part of each orbit it dips down very low and skims through the very uppermost reaches of the Venusian atmosphere,” notes Adam Williams, Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager.
“We know that the current state of our Sun can affect Venus’ atmosphere, which could in turn impact the planned orbit of Venus Express as it passes through the atmosphere.”
Adam says that the team do not expect to replan any of the aerobraking orbits based on ‘typical’ solar activity levels.
Video courtesy of ESA
“The space weather reports will, however, allow us to better understand anomalous behavior that we may subsequently observe on the spacecraft. And in extreme cases, we would be more ready to react to a serious situation. For example, if our startrackers were to be overloaded by radiation.”
The weather updates will deliver the best information from a variety of sources – including ESA’s Proba-2 and solar-orbiting ESA and NASA spacecraft – to the control team as rapidly as possible.
“The aim is to report on current conditions and give a short-term forecast of solar activity and radiation conditions, tailored for Venus,” says Juha-Pekka Luntama, responsible for space weather in the SSA programme office.
“We’re used to doing this for Earth-orbiting spacecraft, but it’s quite a challenge for Venus due to both its location and the complexity of that planet’s environment. Venus is currently 59° ahead of Earth on its orbit around the Sun, and we do not have a spacecraft between the Sun and Venus as we have for Earth. So, we need to adapt and extend space weather forecasts we regularly provide towards the direction of Venus.”“
We’ll also issue special bulletins during the day if there is a significant solar event that might affect the Venus space environment. If we’ve learned anything about forecasting space weather, it’s that there can always be surprises we were not able to predict.”
The first Venus space-weather report was issued on May 19, and included analysis and forecasts based on data not only from the fleet of solar monitors but also from a new network of Expert Service Centres on the ground operated by ESA member states in the SSA programme.
Venus Express mission will eventually end, but Juha-Pekka says that ESA’s network will be expanded later this year to include the Heliospheric Weather Expert Service Centre, which will provide dedicated space weather information for missions traveling to other locations in the Solar System.
- Read more: VENUS EXPRESS SPACE WEATHER REPORT NO. 1
Image credit: ESA – C. Carreau
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