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Soyuz Launches Second Pair Of Cluster Probes Igniting Science Mission; Tenth Successful Launch In 18 Months

By | August 16, 2000

      A Starsem Soyuz-Fregat rocket carried out the launch of the final two Cluster 2 scientific satellites for the European Space Agency (ESA) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Liftoff on Aug. 9 delivered the two scientific satellites into an elliptic orbit at 64.8 degrees.

      This mission marked the 10th consecutive success for Starsem. Now, launch officials are preparing the 2001 launch manifest that includes qualification plans for the Soyuz/ST launch vehicle. Starsem already has 11 orders for this vehicle to place 32 satellites of the SkyBridge constellation into orbit. Likewise, launch preparations are also underway for the ESA interplanetary spacecraft Mars Express.

      The Aug. 9 flight followed the earlier Cluster launch on July 16. “We are pleased after this successful launch,” said Roger-Maurice Bonnet, ESA science director. After so many years of expectation for the scientists, ESA now can roll out the mission that has lied dormant.

      …First Cluster Mission Was Lost During the Maiden Ariane 5 Launch

      The first Cluster mission was lost in 1996 when Arianespace Inc.’s inaugural Ariane 5 launch ended in a fiery explosion in Kourou, French Guiana.

      The main mission objective is to better understand and forecast space weather that is becoming an increasingly significant obstacle to satellite activity. Each of the four satellites is composed of a collection of instruments designed to detect plasma fields and waves as well as particles. In addition, they will determine the physical process involved in the interaction between the solar wind and the magnetosphere, mapping some of the areas in three dimensions.

      The Cluster 2 mission involves more than 200 scientists from ESA member states, the United States, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Israel, Japan and Russia.

      Roughly one-third of the scientists are from the United States which invested around $30 million to the $315 million science mission.

      …Space Agency Seeing Double For Mars

      What 1999 brought in disaster, 2003 may bring in success. NASA announced Aug. 10 plans to launch not one but two large scientific rovers to Mars in 2003.

      The Boeing Co.‘s [BA] Delta 2 launch vehicle is scheduled to loft the rovers into space. The first launch is targeted for May 22, 2003, with the second launch slated for June 4, 2003.

      If both launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., are successful, the first rover should enter Mars’ atmosphere January 2, 2004, with the second rover following suit 18 days later. The mobile laboratories will land at different sectors of Mars’ surface and perform independent experiments to determine how suitable the planet is for sustaining life.

      “For the past few weeks NASA has been undertaking an extensive study of a two-lander option,” said Scott Hubbard, Mars program director. “Our teams concluded that we can successfully develop and launch theses identical packages to the red planet.”

      Both spacecraft, slated to cost around $600 million, currently will be built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “At this time, we do not know if JPL will choose to contract any of the parts out-of-house,” said Don Savage, a NASA spokesperson.

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