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N° 12–1993: ESA takes part in Earth observation and space science experiments on board the Space Shuttle

16 March 1993

With the countdown for the forthcoming D-2 mission on the Space Shuttle still running, ESA and European scientists are already preparing for ATLAS-2, the Shuttle's next mission. ESA sees its participation in this second flight of the "Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science" as a further step in preparing for utilisation of the Columbus Attached Laboratory.

The ATLAS-2 mission is focusing on Earth observation and space science; three out of the seven instruments have been developed by scientific institutes in Belgium, France and Germany, with support from ESA. Four experiments have been provided by NASA and US scientists.

The three European instruments have already shown an excellent performance during the first Atlas mission in March 1992, when they were tended by payload specialist Dirk Frimout, a Belgian astronaut and ESA staff member. Although the main scientific objective of the series of Atlas missions is to achieve continuity of annual measurements over a period as long as a decade, the first scientific results from Atlas can already be considered as a contribution to critical research topics, in particular the environment. The data from ATLAS-2 will add to this achievement.

Two European instruments, Solcon and Solspec, are measuring to a very high degree of precision the total irradiation the Earth receives from the Sun - the "solar constant" -and the spectral distribution of this radiation over a wide range of wavelengths. Knowledge of the solar constant and the solar radiation spectrum matters not only for a better understanding of the Sun, but also for improving numerical models of climate and climate change. SOLCON was developed under the responsibility of Dr. Dominique Crommelynck of the Royal Meteorological Institute of Brussels, Belgium. SOLSPEC was instead developed under the responsibility of Dr. Gerard Thuillier of the CNRS, Verrieres le Buisson, France.

One of these instruments will be fully remote-controlled by scientists from a laboratory in Belgium, via telecommunications links to the Shuttle, and the data of another will be transmitted to Belgium in real time to follow the results obtained. This approach is known as telescience: using telescience, a scientist can monitor his experiment in real-time, repeat it with different settings, consult his team, process data and adapt his measurements when interesting phenomena show up.

The third European instrument, called MAS (Millimeter Wave Atmospheric Sounder) will be measuring the absorption spectra of water vapour and trace gases in the upper atmosphere. The measurement programme includes most notably ozone and chlorine monoxide, which plays an important role in the ozone cycle. MAS was developed under the responsibility of Dr. Gerd Hartmann of the Max-Planck- Institute fuer Aeronomy, Lindau, Germany.
The complex space-to-ground communications links and the tools to control the instruments from the laboratories in Europe have been designed to be as flexible and user-friendly as possible.
The series of Atlas missions is enabling ESA to gain valuable experience for the future utilisation of its Columbus Attached Laboratory; its science results are at the same time a contribution to today's advances in space science and environmental research, complementing a number of dedicated ESA satellites currently under development, such as SOHO, ERS-2 and ENVISAT-1.

Note to Editors :
At the invitation of the Belgian Minister for Science Policy a press conference will be held on 22 March 1993 at 16.00 hours at the Belgian Royal Meteorological Institute in Brussels (IRMB). The press conference will be followed by the inauguration of the Space Remote Operations Centre, from where the telescience operations for the ATLAS-2 mission will be carried out.
Apart from the Minister, those participating will include: Dirk Frimout, Belgian astronaut and ESA staff member Dominique Crommelynck, IRMB, Principal Investigator for SOLCON Gerard Thuillier, CNRS France, Principal Investigator for SOLSPEC

Further information can be obtained from the Belgian Science Policy Office,
Mrs. M.C. Limbourg or Mr. J. Bernard :
Tel : +32.2.238.34.11 - Fax : +32.2.230.59.12


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