Airbus has successfully completed the In-OrbitCommissioning (IOC) of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft, by the teams working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At 165 million km away from Earth, Solar Orbiter is definitely keeping its social distance, but its commissioning presented a challenge to the teams who would normally work together in the office to complete the IOC process. Instead, under the leadership of Airbus project Manager Ian Walters, the team met online at least once a day to make sure the process was tackled quickly and efficiently.
Ian Walters, project manager for Solar Orbiter at Airbus said: “In the four months since launch we have been keeping an eye on every move to make sure Solar Orbiter performs as it should. If someone had told me in February that we would be doing the in-orbit commissioning while working from home I would have been horrified – but in the event the teams all worked perfectly together online and we achieved it without a hitch.”
ESA confirms that the IOC has been completed on time by the Airbus prime team and it is believed that this is the first “virtual” ESA Mission Commissioning Results Review(MCRR).
Immediately after launch from Cape Canaveral on 10th February 2020 Airbus began closely monitoring the spacecraft, testing all systems, all the spare units and the 10 instruments including the Solar Wind Plasma Analyser (SWA) which will measure the solar winds’ properties and composition.
Checks were carried out to verify that the next phase of the mission could start and that ESA’s Operations Centre (ESOC) was ready to take full control of the mission.
After successfully making its first close pass of the Sun on 15 June at 77 million kilometres, Solar Orbiter’s next major step is a Venus fly by on 27th December this year. It will use the gravity of the planet to first reduce the distance to the Sun and then gradually shift the spacecraft’s orbit out of the ecliptic plane. The full science phase of the mission is due to start in March 2022.
This announcement was made 30 June 2020 by Airbus.