10 September 1999
A Russian Soyuz launcher lifted off from Plesetsk in Northern Russia at 20:00 hours Central European Time, yesterday, Thursday 9 September carrying the Foton-12 capsule loaded with 240 kg of European scientific experiments designed to study biological and physical processes under weightlessness. Nine minutes later, Foton-12 separated from Soyuz, heading for a 16-day mission in low Earth orbit, before returning and landing on the Kazakhstan steppe. The first experiments were activated 32 minutes after lift-off.
Scientists carry out research in space because gravity, which is one of the four basic physical forces, strongly affects all organisms and systems on Earth, is practically "switched-off" onboard a spacecraft, making it possible to observe the behaviour of those same organisms or systems without any disturbance caused by gravity, such as convection, pressure or sedimentation. One way to remove these gravity effects is using capsules such as the unmanned Foton-12.
ESA has been using Foton and the earlier Bion capsules since 1987 to conduct biological investigations. On this mission, the sixth in which ESA has taken part, European fluid physics and material science experiments have been added to the research programme.
Using such capsules is only one method in a programme available to European scientists for research under weightlessness, which is called "microgravity" by the specialists. ESA also offers opportunities on US Space Shuttle missions and, in the past, on the Russian Mir space station. In the future, much work will be carried out on the International Space Station where the European laboratory Columbus, for example, will allow for hundreds of experiments per year in various disciplines over a period of at least 10 years.
Researchers from institutes and universities in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia and the United Kingdom will monitor their experiments from two locations: a telescience centre at ESRANGE in Kiruna, Sweden, and the Foton User Centre at the Soyuz and Foton manufacturer TsSKB in Samara, Russia, with experiment data being transmitted directly and regularly to Kiruna.
"The Foton-12 mission is a further example of the mutually beneficial cooperation between Europe and Russia in space programmes," said Jörg Feustel-Büechl, the ESA Director of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity. "It will help European and Russian scientists to better understand some fundamental and specific phenomena and mechanisms in life sciences and physical sciences, from which we expect future benefits for our everyday's life on Earth."
Foton-12 is expected to reenter the atmosphere on 25 September and land in an uninhabitated area near the Russian-Kazakh border. The capsule and the experiments will be recovered within a few hours of the landing. Time-sensitive ESA experiments will be immediately flown back to Rotterdam via Samara and turned over to researchers for analysis at ESA's Space Technology and Research Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk (the Netherlands).
For more information on the Foton-12 mission and its status and the ESA experiments :
http://www.estec.esa.int/spaceflight/foton and on ESA :
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ESA Public Relations Division
Verhaert Design and Development will organise on 16 September at 10:30 a press conference on the occasion of the launch of Foton-12. The press conference will take place at the meeting room of the "Sociaal Economische Raad Vlaanderen (SERV)" on the 19th floor of the Madou tower, Place Madou 1 in Brussels.
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