Scientists jubilant over launch success


Surrey space scientists, based at UCL's Mullard Space Science laboratory in Holmbury St Mary, are breathing a huge sigh of relief. Their instruments blasted safely into space on a Soyuz launcher on Sunday 16 July at13:39 BST.

The launch of the first two satellites of the European Space Agency's Cluster quartet was delayed 24 hours due to a faulty cable between the ground system and launcher, apparently affected by three hours of torrential rain.

But the second launch attempt on Sunday went flawlessly and the two satellites were placed very accurately into the expected orbit.


'It was such a tense moment as we watched the pictures live at MSSL' commented Dr Andrew Coates, head of MSSL's space plasma group 'but we now have the first taste of launch success with this mission'. An attempt to launch the mission in 1996 had failed due to incorrect software in a new Ariane rocket.

These first two spacecraft of the Cluster constellation, now named Salsa and Samba, will be maneuvred into their final orbit over the Earth's poles over the next few weeks. Then scientists and engineers will hold their breath again on 9 August as the second pair, Tango and Rumba, are launched to join their partners for their cosmic dance. They will fly in a pyramid shaped constellation just a few hundred kilometres apart to study the science behind space weather.


'The revolutionary aspect of this mission is to determine the shapes and sizes of leaks in Earth's magnetic shield, and for that we need four spacecraft. The science will be truly exciting and unique' said Dr Coates. The importance of the science was re-emphasized over the weekend, as material from a huge solar flare on Friday reached Earth causing spectacular aurorae. Leaks in the magnetic shield can also cause problems for satellites, now an important part of all our lives.

MSSL have built identical instruments for each of the four spacecraft - the Plasma Electron and Current Experiment (PEACE). Dr Andrew Fazakerley of MSSL, who leads the international team of scientists for Cluster II, watched the launch in Kazakhstan.

PEACE project manager at MSSL, Dr Paul Carter, commented 'Now we are really looking forward to the second launch. It has been a long haul - 13 years of work by the Cluster I and II teams to produce these excellent instruments. Now half of the Cluster II instruments are in space and we can hardly believe it. It is huge a tribute to the dedication and expertise of the MSSL Cluster team past and present that we can now look forward to such an exciting mission.'

Contacts this week:

Dr Andrew Coates, 01483 204145, mobile 07788 448318
Dr Paul Carter, 01483 204167

Contacts for 9 August Launch

Dr Andrew Fazakerley, 01483 204175
Dr Paul Carter, 01483 204167
MSSL switchboard, 01483 274111

Launch picture courtesy ESA

This page was last updated by Martin de la Nougerede 17th July 2000