ESA's Science Programme Committee, meeting at ESA Headquarters in Paris today, has agreed on the reflight of a full Cluster mission by mid-2000. After months of intense negotiations and an impressive display of solidarity by all ESA member States and the scientific community at large in supporting the reflight, this mission to investigate the physical interaction between the Sun and our planet is back on track.
The original Cluster mission, lost on 4 June 1996 with the explosion of the first Ariane 5 demonstration flight, is being replaced by Cluster 2, comprising the Phoenix spacecraft (being built with spares from the four original Cluster satellites) and three identical new satellites to be built by a European industrial consortium led by DASA/ Daimler Benz Aerospace (Germany).
The satellites will be launched in pairs by two Russian Soyuz launchers in mid-2000 over a short period to meet the orbital requirements of the mission. The launchers will be procured through the STARSEM consortium, a French/ Russian joint venture.
The choice of the Soyuz launchers, together with major efforts on the part of ESA, the industrial consortium and scientific institutes all over Europe and the US, has enabled the additional Cluster mission cost to be kept down to 214 MECU. In spite of some inevitable delays to future scientific missions beyond those currently being implemented, the scientific community is prepared to pay this price to fully restore the integrity of the Horizon 2000 space science programme.