The ESA’s Solar Orbiter survived its last flyby of Earth unscathed and is on its way back into the interior of the solar system. The European Space Agency announced this on Twitter. After the flyby on Saturday morning, the signals from the probe were received by the ESA antenna in Australia, indicating that the frenzied flight through the region of Earth orbit with the most space debris went off without complications. The ESA had previously warned that, in view of the growing number of rubble in the region a few hundred kilometers above the earth’s surface, it cannot be ruled out that a piece of it could damage it by a speeding probe. Most recently, a Russian test of an anti-satellite weapon created hundreds of new debris.
More and more space junk in Earth orbit
The ESA probe is supposed to explore the sun from ever shorter distances and has to get closer and closer to it in several orbits. At the same time, it should be increasingly distracted in order to finally target the poles of the sun. In return, it flies past Venus several times. The now successful rendezvous with the earth was her last flyby here. In doing so, it came close to earth to around 460 kilometers, roughly as far away as the International Space Station ISS. Exactly in this region there is not only a lot of space junk, but for a few days also the debris of the Soviet satellite Kosmos 1408, which was destroyed by a Russian rocket.
Nevertheless, the risk for the Solar Orbiter was extremely low, it was just not zero, as the ESA had previously explained. Before and afterwards, the probe had also passed the region in which the geostationary satellites orbit. The ESA has long been warning of the growing risk for space travel as a whole from more and more space junk.