Operations - Ulysses
The Ulysses Mission was a joint undertaking of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Its goal was the exploration of the Sun's environment far out of the ecliptic plane. At the time of writing, Ulysses is still the only spacecraft to have visited this unique region over the northern and southern poles of the Sun.
Launched on 6th October 1990, Ulysses has almost completed its third circumnavigation of the solar polar regions. The mission finally came to an end on 30th June 2009; a full year after the originally announced mission end date of 1st July 2009. A series of status reports from the Ulysses mission operations manager documents the progress of this final phase of the mission.
The total mission duration is 6842 days (18 years, 8 months, 24 days). This surpasses the previous record for the longest running ESA operated spacecraft, which was held by the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) whose mission duration was 6822 days. However this should be compared with the mission durations for NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11 (9141 and 8192 days respectively) and Voyager 1 and 2 (11,621 and 11,637 days respectively on 30-Jun-2009 and still operating).
On 30th June 2009, the final ground station pass for the mission took place over DSS-63 (DSN Madrid 70m ground station) from 15:35 to 20:20 UTC (08:35 to 13:20 PDT). An open-loop slew manoeuvre was time tagged for execution at 11:20 UTC on-board the spacecraft. This manoeuvre resulted in the spacecraft pointing directly at the Earth during the mid-point of this pass for maximum downlink margin. The sequence of events for this final pass of the mission is available here.
Friends of Ulysses were able to keep track of the progress of the final day of operations via mission operations blog updates and live video webcast from the Ulysses Mission Support Area at JPL (Look for the archived clips of the webcast in the "On Demand" video pages.)