Finally, after much consternation among solar scientists everywhere (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration) the Sun has awaked from one of the deepest solar minima in recent history. You can see a total of five, FIVE, active regions in this extreme ultraviolet picture from SOHO:
The SOHO observatory has monitored solar activity since 1995, sitting at the L1 Lagrangian point between the Earth and the Sun. This stable position, four times farther than the Moon’s orbit, offers an unimpeded view of the solar disk. The science return from this observatory has been incredible, drastically increasing our understanding of the star that powers our planet and lives.
This feat is even more amazing considering SOHO’s history. In 1998, a problem on the observatory ended with the failure of all gyroscopes. For a mission designed around the ability to self-stabilize at the L1 gravitational minimum, such a loss seems mission-ending. However, operations engineers learn early that it’s necessary to work with what is available, even though the situation isn’t optimal. In this case, an amazing effort to rescue the SOHO observatory ensued, and the spacecraft engineers devised a method to use the observatory successfully without gyroscopic stabilization.
The extreme environment of space eventually degrades or destroys the spacecraft we launch. But until we are forced to accept that an observatory is irretrievable, operations engineers will work to keep the mission going. As a result, most missions end due to funding cuts, not hardware failure.