The European Space Agency is stopping science operations on four deep space missions as the coronavirus pandemic continues to intensify.
Why it matters: The shutdown comes as nations have placed tight restrictions on movement while cases of COVID-19 rise. ESA also announced that someone working at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany has tested positive for the virus.
Details: On Tuesday, ESA announced it is planning to temporarily suspend operations of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Mars Express, which both circle the Red Planet.
- The agency's four-spacecraft Cluster mission orbiting Earth and its Solar Orbiter that launched in February to study the Sun from close range will also go dark.
- According to ESA, interplanetary missions like these require a large number of people on-site at any given time, so ending science operations temporarily will help limit the number of people at mission control.
- “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," Rolf Densing, ESA’s director of operations, said in the statement.
The big picture: The space industry at large is seeing more effects from the coronavirus crisis.
- NASA's James Webb Space Telescope — a nearly $10 billion astrophysics mission expected to launch next year — could face delays due to the pandemic after the agency suspended testing of the telescope.
- Bigelow Aerospace — a company with plans to one day build private space stations — has reportedly laid off its entire workforce in part because of the pandemic.
- Maxar has also warned that it may not be able to deliver satellites to customers on time due to supply chain issues brought about by the pandemic, according to SpaceNews.