back to article Corona coronavirus hiatus: Euro space agency to put Sun, Mars probes in safe mode while boffins swerve pandemic

ESA will pause on-board operations of its spacecraft exploring our Solar System – after sending its mission control center staff home to help contain the coronavirus pandemic. “Our priority is the health of our workforce, and we will therefore reduce activity on some of our scientific missions, especially on interplanetary …

  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Pity that these instruments needed to be powered down, as valuable data will be lost (lives are of course infinitely more valuable). In many cases data gathering can go on without the need of people on site (I can access several machines at our uni to do experiments and download data from home), but apparently that is not the case here.

    1. Geoff May (no relation)

      Most satellites store data on board the spacecraft and then it is downloaded at regular intervals. The down load needs an extensive team as you need to:

      1 - Calculate exactly where the spacecraft is;

      2 - Point the antenna to the spacecraft;

      3 - Initiate the download (this usually stops recording on device #1 and starts recording on device #2);

      4 - When the download is complete, start downloading from device #2 and restart device #1 (sometimes the recording is left on the second device and that is downloaded at the next schedule);

      5 - Release the antenna team so they can start working on other satellites.

      This requires at least 4 teams and they are almost always shift workers so that is a minimum of 20 people (to allow for time off and covering 24 hours per day).

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Or maybe just one team to write some software to do this?

        Seriously, which of these steps cannot, indeed, should not be handled by automation?

  2. Christoph Silver badge

    "long periods with limited or no interaction with ground, required for instance for the periods they spend behind the Sun as seen from Earth, when no radio contact is possible for weeks."

    I wonder if it would be worth putting relay satellites at Earth's L4 and L5 points to talk to probes that are behind the sun? (And possibly a further relay at L3?)

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Sure... but it boils down to "who's going to pay for it?"

  3. Martin M

    Why bother putting them into safe mode?

    When you could just stick in a VPN. Staff could command interplanetary spacecraft from their spare rooms while wearing pyjamas and watching Netflix on the other monitor...

    1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

      Re: Why bother putting them into safe mode?

      You need a screen, a keyboard, and a mouse to control a satellite*. And a whole heap of clever computer stuff and some very impressive antennae etc as well but they don't have to be in the same place as you, and that's the point: you could work from home just as well as at the office.

      *most people anyway, there are some who have other ways to do what's needed.

      1. hoola Bronze badge

        Re: Why bother putting them into safe mode?

        There are huge consequences if something goes wrong when you are dealing with a satellite. It is simply not possible to get in the car and go and fit a spare part when the CORVID-19 problem has passed. Millions of pounds of investment and many years of work is at stake here. This is exactly the right approach, go for the safe option where the birds can look after themselves.

        1. Martin M

          Re: Why bother putting them into safe mode?

          Evidently the irony intended was far too subtle, despite the references to pajamas and Netflix.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Why bother putting them into safe mode?

            No, we'd totally command the spacecraft in our pyjamas if the opportunity arose. Or less. This is Germany you know.

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