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Aditya L1 in space: How Europe is helping India track its solar mission

Aditya L1, an ambitious solar mission from India, was launched on Saturday, and Europe has come to support it as it makes its way to the Lagrange Point 1.

A key player in the project, the European Space Agency (ESA) is contributing in two important ways: by delivering deep space communication services and helping to validate novel flight dynamics software created by the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro).

Each and every space mission must have effective communication. It becomes hard to collect any scientific data from a spacecraft without ground station support, let alone determine its location or safety status.

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To help Isro do this, ESA is utilizing its extensive network of deep space tracking stations and globally accepted technological standards.

Ramesh Chellathurai, ESA Service Manager and ESA Cross-Support Liaison Officer for Isro, said, "We are providing support from all three of our 35-meter deep space antennas situated in Australia, Spain, and Argentina for the Aditya-L1 mission. They are receiving additional assistance from their Kourou station in French Guiana and coordinated assistance from Goonhilly Earth Station in the United Kingdom.

The project will be supported by the ESA for the next two years of normal operations, including the crucial "Launch and Early Orbit Phase," the trip to L1, and the transmission and reception of science data from Aditya-L1.

L1, one of the 'unstable' Lagrange equilibrium points, is not directly accessible from Aditya-L1.

Isro operators will instead carry out a "transfer manoeuvre" akin to the one that the ESA just completed to move its Euclid telescope to L2. This maneuver was carried out shortly after launch since the amount of fuel needed to maintain the proper trajectory grows significantly over time.

After launching, the spacecraft should arrive at L1 125 days later.

Operators need to know exactly where their spacecraft was, is, and will be in order to keep it in orbit around L1.

L1 Aditya
the Sriharikota launch site for the Aditya L1 mission. (Image: Isro)
This "orbit determination" operation is carried out with the aid of software that has been specifically created. Aditya-L1's new orbit determination software was created by Isro and confirmed with ESA's help.

ESA and Isro teams collaborated closely from April to December 2022 to assess Isro's Aditya-L1 operation strategy and test their new orbit determination software.

Both ESA and Isro found value in the exercise's outcomes, and both groups have faith in Isro's software's capabilities.