The European Space Agency's Cluster II mission to explore the magnetosphere is now under way after today's successful launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
At 14.39 CEST, a Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle provided by the French-Russian Starsem consortium lifted off with FM 6 and FM 7, the first pair of Cluster II satellites. Approximately 90 minutes into the mission, the rocket's Fregat fourth stage fired for a second time to insert the spacecraft into a 240 km - 18,000 km parking orbit.
A few minutes later, the ground station in Kiruna, Sweden, acquired the two spacecraft and started to receive telemetry, confirming that the satellites had sucessfully separated from the Fregat and that they were now flying independently.
"This has been an excellent start and we look forward to the second launch next month," said Professor Roger-Maurice Bonnet, ESA Director of Science. "Cluster is one of the key Cornerstone missions in our Horizons 2000 long-term scientific programme and it will provide unique insights that will revolutionise our understanding of near-Earth space."
ESA's Cluster II project manager, Dr John Ellwood, paid tribute to the hundreds of scientists and engineers in many countries who have worked so hard to rebuild the four Cluster satellites since the tragic loss of the first group in 1996.
"Without the dedication and teamwork of these people, today's success would not have been possible," he said. "Only three years after we began the Cluster II programme, we are already starting to see the fruits of all our efforts."
Cluster II deputy project manager, Alberto Gianolio, also expressed his full satisfaction for the successful launch. "This launch marks a milestone in the cooperation between the European Space Agency and our Russian partners. We are looking forward to the continuation of this fruitful joint effort in the years to come". UK Winner For Cluster Competition - Rumba, Salsa, Samba, Tango into space! The winner of ESA's "Name The Cluster Quartet" competition was announced today, during a special launch event for the media at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.
After an exhaustive examination of more than 5,000 entries from all 15 ESA member states, Professor Bonnet selected the winning entry from a shortlist recommended by the international jury.
The lucky winner is Raymond Cotton of Bristol, who suggested the names of four dances - RUMBA, SALSA, SAMBA and TANGO - for the individual satellites of the Cluster quartet.
"We thought of these because my wife and I both like ballroom dancing, and they seemed to fit with the movement of the satellites through space," he said. "The names are also international and will be recognised in any country."
"It was an extremely hard decision," commented Professor Bonnet, "There were some excellent suggestions, but I considered the shortlisted entry from the UK to be the best because it is catchy, easy to remember, and reflects the way the four satellites will dance in formation around the heavens during their mission."
The spacecraft will now be named as follows:
FM 5 - Rumba
FM 6 - Salsa
FM 7 - Samba
FM 8 - Tango
Over the next week, the FM 6 (Salsa) and FM 7 (Samba) spacecraft will use their own onboard propulsion systems to reach their operational orbits, 19,000km - 119,000 km above the Earth. At their furthest point (apogee) from the Earth, the Cluster satellites will be almost one third of the distance to the Moon.
Six engine firings will be required to enlarge the current orbits and change their inclination so that the spacecraft will eventually pass over the Earth's polar regions. These major manoeuvres are only possible because of the large amount of fuel they carry, which accounts for more than half the launch mass of each Cluster satellite.
The second pair of Cluster spacecraft is scheduled for launch on 9 August. After they rendezvous with the spacecraft that were launched today, the quartet will undergo three months of instrument calibration and systems checkouts before beginning their scientific programme. They will then spend the next two years investigating the interaction between the Sun and our planet in unprecedented detail.
For more information, please contact:
ESA - Communication Department
Media Relations Office
Tel: +33 (0)220.127.116.11.55
Fax: +33 (0)18.104.22.168.90
Alberto Gianolio, Cluster II Project
Tel: +31 71 565 3394
Further information on Cluster II and the ESA Science Programme can be found on the Worldwide Web at: http://sci.esa.int/
For more information on ESA : http://www.esa.int