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Mission control 'saves science'

17 May 2019

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Every minute, ESA's Earth observation satellites gather dozens of gigabytes of data about our planet – enough information to fill the pages on a 100-metre long bookshelf. Flying in low-Earth orbits, these spacecraft are continuously taking the pulse of our planet, but it's teams on the ground at ESA's Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, that keep these explorers afloat.

From flying groups of spacecraft in complex formations to dodging space debris and navigating the ever-changing conditions in space known as space weather, ESA's spacecraft operators ensure we continue to receive beautiful images and vital data on our changing planet.

Get in formation

Many Earth observation satellites travel in formation. For example, the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite follows behind the Suomi-NPP satellite (from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Flying in a loose trailing formation, they observe parts of our planet in quick succession and monitor rapidly evolving situations. Together they can also cross-validate instruments on board as well as the data acquired.

ESA's Earth Explorer Swarm satellites are another example of complex formation flying. On a mission to provide the best ever survey of Earth's geomagnetic field, they are made up of three identical satellites flying in what is called a constellation formation.

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