Swarm trio on its way to watch over Earth’s magnetic shield
22 November 2013
ESA’s three-satellite Swarm constellation was launched today at 12:02 GMT by a Rockot launcher in Northern Russia. For four years, it will monitor Earth’s magnetic field.
Some 91 minutes after launch, the rocket’s upper stage released the three satellites into a near-polar circular orbit at an altitude of 490 km.
Contact was established with the trio minutes later through the Kiruna station in Sweden and the Svalbard station in Norway.
All three satellites are controlled by ESA teams at the European Space Operation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. In the next hours the satellites will deploy their 4 metre-long instrument booms. Over the next three months, their scientific payloads will be verified by engineers, and then they will move on to their respective operational orbits.
The lower pair will fly in formation side by side, about 150 km (10 seconds) apart at the equator and at an initial altitude of 460 km, while the upper satellite will rise to a higher orbit, at 530 km.
Our magnetic field plays a major role in protecting the biosphere because it generates a bubble around our planet that deflects charged particles and traps them in the radiation belts. The Swarm satellites will give us insights into the complex workings of the magnetic shield and will perform precise measurements to evaluate its current weakening and understand how it contributes to global change.