A group of astronomers at ESA’s ESTEC were testing some solar observing equipment on 6 September and serendipitously captured a solar flare, which turned out to be one of the most powerful observed in the last decade.
The image shown here was taken with an iPhone through a special interference H-alpha filter (centred at the wavelength of hydrogen emission) mounted to a small dedicated solar telescope at 13:09:26 GMT. An X9.3 flare was observed to launch from the Sun by space telescopes at 12:02 GMT, meaning that this image was taken as the flare was in the gradual decay phase.
The flare is seen as the white cloudy feature with multiple ribbons towards the bottom right of the image. It appears as a lighter feature against the solar background average because of post-flare energy release visible in hydrogen emission from interconnected magnetic loops. North is up.
ESA’s first mission to Mercury, BepiColombo, is now set for final thermal tests before launching to the hottest planet in our Solar System in October 2018. Europe said farewell to the spacecraft in July when it was at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, in its launch configuration.
BepiColombo is a joint mission to Mercury between the ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and consists of two science orbiters: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.
Six months after its arrival at Mars (on 19 October 2016), Mission controllers of ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter have begun the challenging process of adjusting the spacecraft’s orbit. This involves using the shifting Martian atmosphere to gradually slow the satellite in a process known as aerobraking.
Meanwhile, as the final design of the rover nears completion, the team developing the ExoMars 2020 mission has shortlisted two final landing sites, in areas where they believe traces of life are most likely to be found.
This report contains new animation showing orbits of the Trace Gas Orbiter, animation of designs for the final configuration of the 2020 rover, the ExoMars control area at ESOC and interviews recorded at ESA centres of ESOC and ESTEC.
The last of 22 Galileo satellites has departed ESA’s Test Centre in the Netherlands – concluding the single longest and largest scale test campaign in the establishment’s history.
Cocooned in a protective container for its journey – equipped with air conditioning, temperature control and shock absorbers – the final Galileo satellite left the establishment by lorry on 24 August.
ESA’s Test Centre at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands houses a collection of test equipment to simulate all aspects of spaceflight. It is operated for ESA by private company European Test Services (ETS) B.V.
In May 2013, the Test Centre began testing the first of 22 Galileo ‘Full Operational Capability’ (FOC) satellites, having previously performed the same function for the very first Galileo ‘In-Orbit Validation’ satellite under a separate contract.
The Galileo FOC satellites had their platforms built by OHB System AG in Germany, incorporating navigation payloads coming from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd in the UK. They then travelled on to ESTEC, to be subjected to the equivalent vibration, acoustic noise, vacuum and temperature extremes that they will experience for real during their launch and orbit, plus testing of their radio systems.
With a steady stream of satellites coming off the production line, the challenge for the combined ETS and OHB team overseeing Galileo testing was to put them through all necessary tests on a rapid and efficient basis, while also keeping the Test Centre accessible to other European missions requiring its unique services.
A total of 14 FOC satellites have since joined the first four IOV satellites in orbit, forming an 18-strong constellation that began Initial Services to global users on 15 December last year. The next four FOC satellites are scheduled for launch on an Ariane 5 this December.
“For the first time in more than four years there are no Galileo satellites in the Test Centre, but hopefully this will not be the end of our association with the programme,” comments Jörg Selle, ETS Managing Director.
“The contract for making the next eight Galileo satellites – known as Batch 3 – was also awarded to OHB last June, and ETS will be bidding for the contract to test these satellites too.”
“The availability of the ETS facilities in ESTEC have substantially contributed to the programme,” said Paul Verhoef, ESA Director of the Galileo Programme and Navigation-related Activities. “We thank ETS for their professionalism and support over this extended period.”
The final Galileo travelled back to OHB in Germany for some final refurbishment ahead of its launch together with another three satellites in December.
TOP IMAGE….Enclosed in its protective container, Galileo Full Operational Capability (FOC) Flight Model 21 (FM21) is seen departing ESA’s ESTEC Test Centre on 24 August 2017, watched by members of the testing team. This was the last of 22 Galileo FOC satellites to be tested at the establishment, the longest and largest-scale test campaign in the establishment’s history. Copyright ESA/OHB–S. Bury
CENTRE IMAGE….A Galileo Full Operational Capability satellite being removed from the Phenix thermal vacuum chamber after a fortnight-long ‘hot and cold’ vacuum test. Copyright ESA–G. Porter, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
LOWER IMAGE….Europe’s Galileo navigation satellites orbit 23 222 km above Earth to provide positioning, navigation and timing information all across the globe. Copyright GSA