Multiple ESA space missions take a hit as coronavirus pandemic grows

The European Space Agency has revealed that multiple current space missions are being impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. In an announcement on Wednesday, the agency said that it is dialing down its mission operations and sending a number of its mission control center personnel in Germany home to avoid the virus risk. Some instrument operations must be stopped as a result, among other things.

Social distancing has forced a number of companies to adjust to new work arrangements as employees transition from working at the office to working at home. The same is true for the ESA, which previously reduced the number of on-site personnel it had at its Darmstadt mission control center.

In an announcement on Tuesday, the agency revealed that it is once again slashing that number. Four space science missions will be impacted as a result:

- ExoMars

- Mars Express

- Solar Orbiter

- Cluster

ESA says it will reduce data gathering from these four missions and that it will temporarily pause its instrument operations related to these four missions. The agency says that only its 'key personnel' remain on-site at its various facilities — the majority of the agency's staff has been working from home for going on two weeks.

The key personnel is tasked with the vital activities that can't be performed from home — things like maintaining the real-time operations of these spacecraft. The spacecraft safety will be maintained during this time; the agency says that it will likely start resuming operations 'in the near future,' though it is impossible to give a specific date at this time.