Pandemic Pushes ESA To Put Four Science Missions On Hold

As per a newly released statement, the European Space Agency (ESA) has reportedly decided to suspend all regular operations for four of its science missions, which includes one spacecraft that was recently launched. The decision was made to reduce staffing needs while the pandemic is going on, and was announced Tuesday, March 24.

ESA Puts Missions On Hold

Per a statement the ESA has released, the space agency is putting its four-satellite Cluster space science mission in Earth orbit into a “temporary standby,” alongside the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Mars Express orbiter. And while all of these missions will be suspending science operations for now, all four will go into a safe mode. Furthermore, how long these suspensions will be will depend on the pandemic.

Per ESA, the decision to put these science missions into suspension is to help reduce staffing requirements at its operation center in Darmstadt, Germany, as a direct response to the pandemic. At the moment, the four science missions are part of the 15 missions that the center is operating.

“Our priority is the health of our workforce, and we will therefore reduce activity on some of our scientific missions, especially on interplanetary spacecraft, which currently require the highest number of personnel on site,” Rolf Densing, director of operations at ESA, said in an accompanying statement.

“Turning off their science instruments and placing them into a largely unattended safe configuration for a certain period will have a negligible impact on their overall mission performance,” he added, explaining why the four missions that were suspended are long-duration ones in stable orbits.

Additionally, suspending these missions will also allow the agency to temporarily devote its limited staff to other missions, such as the BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

“We are confident that with very limited and infrequent interactions with ground control the missions can safely remain in that operation mode for months, should the duration of the coronavirus mitigation measures require it,” Paolo Ferri, who’s responsible for mission operations at ESA, said.

To that end, American space agency NASA has also made similar moves.

astronaut-1014076_1920 Space agencyes like ESA and NASA have started suspending some of their operations amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Pixabay (CC0)

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