European Space Agency shutters Mars spacecraft science due to coronavirus

Two Mars orbiters and a solar explorer are among the spacecraft that are turning off their science instruments.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
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This ESA Mars Express image shows the Terra Sabaea and Arabia Terra regions. The spacecraft's science instruments are shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic.


It's going to be a little quieter in space than usual. The European Space Agency is temporarily shutting down science instruments for some of its spacecraft as it continues to scale down operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ESA's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Germany is responsible for managing 21 active spacecraft. The shutdown affects some famous missions, including the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, the long-lived Mars Express orbiter and the newly launched Solar Orbiter.

"These have stable orbits and long mission durations, so turning off their science instruments and placing them into a largely unattended safe configuration for a certain period will have a negligible impact on their overall mission performance," said Rolf Densing, ESA's director of operations, in a statement on Tuesday.

This is the next step in ESA's ongoing coronavirus mitigation efforts. "The vast majority of ESA's workforce has been teleworking for nearly two weeks," ESA said. "Only key personnel performing critical tasks, which include maintaining real-time spacecraft operations, are still present on site at ESA's establishments throughout Europe."

These missions aren't the only ones impacted. Earlier this month, ESA delayed the launch of its ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin to 2022, citing coronavirus among reasons for the new schedule.

ESA will monitor the coronavirus situation and eventually return the shuttered spacecraft to active duty.   

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