BENGALURU: The Indian Space Research Organisation said it successfully carried out an "extremely challenging" controlled re-entry experiment of the decommissioned orbiting Megha-Tropiques-1 (MT-1) satellite on Tuesday.
"The satellite re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and would have disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean," the Bengaluru-headquartered national space agency said on Twitter.
The low Earth satellite was launched on October 12, 2011, as a joint satellite venture of ISRO and the French space agency, CNES for tropical weather and climate studies.
An uninhabited area in the Pacific Ocean between 5°S to 14°S latitude and 119°W to 100°W longitude was identified as the targeted re-entry zone for MT1, weighing about 1000 kg, ISRO said earlier this week.
The controlled re-entry experiment for the decommissioned Megha-Tropiques-1 (MT-1) was carried out successfully on March 7, 2023.— ISRO (@isro) March 7, 2023
The satellite has re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and would have disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean. pic.twitter.com/UIAcMjXfAH
About 125 kg on-board fuel remained unutilised at its end-of-mission which could pose risks for accidental break-up, an ISRO statement had noted.
This left-over fuel was estimated to be sufficient to achieve a fully controlled atmospheric re-entry to impact the uninhabited location in the Pacific Ocean, ISRO had said.
Controlled re-entries involve deorbiting to very low altitudes to ensure impact occurs within a targeted safe zone.
Usually, large satellites/ rocket bodies, which are likely to survive aero-thermal fragmentation upon re-entry, are made to undergo controlled re-entry to limit ground casualty risk.
However, all such satellites are specifically designed to undergo controlled re-entry at end-of-life (EOL).
"MT1 was not designed for EOL operations through controlled re-entry which made the entire exercise extremely challenging", ISRO said.
Furthermore, the onboard constraints of the aged satellite, where several systems had lost redundancy and showed degraded performance, and maintaining subsystems under harsher environmental conditions at much lower than originally designed orbital altitude added to the operational complexities.
Innovative workarounds were implemented by the operations team based on the study, deliberations, and exchanges among the mission, operations, flight dynamics, aerodynamics, propulsion, controls, navigation, thermal, and other sub-system design teams across the ISRO centres, who worked in synergy to surmount these challenges.
Since August 2022, 18 orbit manoeuvres have been performed to progressively lower the orbit.
In between the de-orbiting, aero-braking studies at different solar panel orientations were also carried out to gain better insights into the physical process of atmospheric drag affecting the orbital decay of the satellite.
The final de-boost strategy had been designed after taking into consideration several constraints, including visibility of the re-entry trace over ground stations, ground impact within the targeted zone, and allowable operating conditions of subsystems, especially the maximum deliverable thrust and the maximum firing duration of the thrusters.
The final two de-boost burns followed by the ground impact are expected to take place between 16:30 IST to 19:30 IST on March seven, ISRO had said.
Aero-thermal simulations show that no large fragments of the satellites are likely to survive the aerothermal heating during the re-entry, it had said.
Although the mission life of the satellite originally was three years, it continued to provide valuable data services for more than a decade supporting regional and global climate models till 2021, ISRO said.
UN/IADC (Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee) space debris mitigation guidelines recommend deorbiting an LEO (Low Earth Orbit) object at its EOL, preferably through controlled re-entry to a safe impact zone, or by bringing it to an orbit where the orbital lifetime is less than 25 years, according to ISRO.
It is also recommended to carry out "passivation" of onboard energy sources to minimise the risk of any post-mission accidental break-up.
The orbital lifetime of MT1 would have been more than 100 years in its 20 deg inclined operational orbit of 867 km altitude, according to ISRO.
"As a responsible space agency committed to safe and sustainable operations in outer space, ISRO proactively takes efforts for better compliance with the UN/ IADC space debris mitigation guidelines on post-mission disposal of LEO objects," an ISRO statement said.
The re-entry experiment of MT1 has been undertaken as a part of the ongoing efforts as this satellite with sufficient left-over fuel presented a unique opportunity to test the relevant methodologies and understand the associated operational nuances of post-mission disposal by direct re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, it was stated.