There’s a detailed news article in the main ESA website today on the space weather reports being generated for Venus Express in support of the aerobraking campaign (see Space weather report for an alien world). This is the formal follow-up to our earlier blog post covering the issuance of the first such report (See Space weather report No. 1):
For the first time, ESA is providing regular space-weather reports for a spacecraft orbiting another planet.
When your spacecraft is surfing deep into the atmosphere of an alien world, you need the latest information on conditions that could affect your trajectory.
If that planet is Venus, that means knowing what’s happening on our Sun in real time, because solar activity can greatly influence conditions like atmospheric density and the radiation environment at Earth’s closest neighbour.
Since May, ground controllers flying Venus Express have been receiving daily reports on solar activity issued by experts at ESA’s Space Weather Coordination Centre (SSCC), at the Space Pole in Belgium.
Here’s an interesting animation to based on Proba2/SWAP data from 4 June. It was sent in by the experts at the SSCC, Space Pole, Brussels, and shows a slice of solar activity just the day prior to the space weather report shown in the web article.
A class M1.3 flare can be observed from the Central-East active region on 3 June 2014 (~13 seconds into the movie), and a large prominence eruption followed by a spectacular expanding flare ribbon can be seen located to the South East, on 4 June 2014 (~33 sec into the movie). Note that on the Sun, East and West are reversed.
The SSCC is operated on behalf of ESA by a consortium consisting of the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, the Royal Observatory of Belgium and two industrial partners, Space Applications Services SA/NV and Spacebel SA/NV.