A team of European and US space operation engineers has won the prestigious 'International SpaceOps Award for Outstanding Achievement’ for its contribution to the successful Ulysses observatory mission now orbiting the poles of the sun. Despite initial plans to place Ulysses in orbit for 5 years, the satellite has successfully been in operation for over 17 years, giving scientists a bird's eye view of the heliosphere from the equator to the poles.
The achievement award was presented by the International Committee on Technical Interchange for Space Mission Operations and Ground Data Systems (SpaceOps Committee) during the SpaceOps 2008 Conference, which recently took place in Heidelberg, Germany. The award recognises the 'outstanding efforts in overcoming space operations and support challenges, and recognises those teams or individuals whose exceptional contributions were critical to the success of a space mission'.
Thanks to the skills and dedication of the people involved in the mission, the recovery of science data throughout the mission has been excellent, explained Ed Massey, NASA project manager for Ulysses at the US Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). 'For 17 years, more than 98% of available data has been captured and made available to the science investigators,' he said.
'The level of experience of management has been fairly stable throughout and young, smart and innovative people have cycled through and made significant contributions to the operations team,' Mr Massey remarked.
For Nigel Angold, ESA Mission operations manager at JPL, the quality of the scientific work was also key to the mission’s success. ‘Fortunately, the science from our mission has been of the highest quality, which has made it easier for both ESA and NASA to justify extending the mission on three occasions,’ he said.
Mr Angold had words of praise for the manufacturers of the ‘robust’ satellite they delivered. ’From flying past Jupiter to traversing the poles of the Sun, it has performed everything it was designed to do and also a number of things that it wasn't,' he said. 'I am very proud to be part of the Ulysses team and appreciate all the hard work of my dedicated colleagues at JPL, ESA and industry in making this mission such a long and successful one.'
Ulysses was constructed in Europe while NASA engineers provided the Radio-isotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) power source and the launch on board Space Shuttle Discovery.
Following years of successful operations, Ulysses will be decommissioned in the near future because the power produced by the Radio-isotope Thermoelectric Generator has begun dropping, thus forcing communications, heating and scientific equipment to run on minimum power. Once the on-board temperature drops below 2°C, the hydrazine fuel - used as rocket fuel - will freeze, causing blockage of the fuel pipes and unmanageability of the spacecraft, the researchers say.