EU SST supports end-of-life operations for first European weather satellite in polar orbit

EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST) has supported the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) in taking Metop-A, Europe’s first polar-orbiting meteorological satellite, out of service. With the last end-of-life manoeuvre, performed on 30 November with continuous support and advice from EU SST’s Collision Avoidance service, the spacecraft has been safely and securely deorbited.

The satellite, located in the LEO regime, was registered for EU SST’s Collision Avoidance service, and is part of a system that has provided global users with weather forecasting and climate change monitoring data for 15 years. As an EU SST user, EUMETSAT requested at the beginning of November support to safely removing the satellite from its orbit, with a series of manoeuvres conducted from 15 to 30 November. The satellite has been lowered so that its point of orbit closest to the Earth was decreased from 817km to about 530km.

Image credit: EUMETSAT, 2021

EU SST worked in close cooperation with EUMETSAT at all stages of the process. Every two days, EUMETSAT sent the ephemerides of Metop-A to EU SST and the proposed manoeuvres. EU SST then performed screening of a sphere of objects at a distance of 5km with hard body radius larger or equal to 1m and of all the manoeuvrable objects at that distance.

The screening of the objects was done against national catalogues, the Special Perturbations catalogue from the 18th Space Control Squadron and the ephemerides shared publicly by various operators through space-track.org. Both EUMETSAT and EU SST were ready to assess various scenarios in order to mitigate any potential risk to spacecraft, although fortunately no major risks were found during this analysis.

Conjunction events within the end-of-life phase of satellite Metop-A
Representation of the nearest conjunction during the end-of-life phase of the satellite

End-of-life operations are part of the EU SST Collision Avoidance (CA) service, which provides users with risk assessment of collision between spacecraft or between spacecraft and space debris, and generates collision avoidance alerts for more than 240 European satellites, contributing to the protection of space-based applications critical for our daily lives. The CA service is rated very positively by its users, and in particular EUMETSAT has praised it for being “very responsive in all phases, from the analysis of the risk to the possible mitigation scenarios.”

EU SST’s support to EUMETSAT also shows its active commitment to the safety and sustainability of the space environment, as end-of-life operations need to be carried out in a way that prevents the generation of debris, and that close cooperation between all relevant actors in Europe and beyond is critical to keeping our space infrastructure safe. As a sub-component of the EU Space Programme, EU SST will develop additional services and continue seeking synergies with initiatives promoting development and deployment of technologies for spacecraft disposal at the end of operational lifetime.

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