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Mission Team

Mission Manager and Project Scientist

Philippe Escoubet

Nationality: French

European Space Agency

Philippe was born in the south of France. Although he had a casual interest in stars and planets, it was not until he went to university in Toulouse that he became seriously interested in space exploration. During a course on astrophysics, he spent a few days at the Pic du Midi observatory in the Pyrenees, staring at the wonders of the night sky in sub-zero temperatures. From then on he was hooked!

After a three-month internship at the Centre D'Etudes Spatiale des Rayonnements (now called Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie) in Toulouse (France), he went on to complete a degree in space plasma physics. This was followed by a PhD based on data from the Russian-French Aureol 3 satellite.

The next step was a research fellowship at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, looking at data, from the Dynamic Explorer satellite, on auroras and charged particles in Earth's magnetic field.

His move to ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands came in 1991. After analysing data from satellites such as the International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-1), he moved to the Cluster project, where he became deputy project scientist. In 1997 he was appointed Cluster project scientist and in 2007 Cluster mission manager.

The day the four Cluster spacecraft were lost during the launch failure of the first Ariane 5 was a day that Philippe will never forget. He was in Paris that day (4 June 1996) at the Louvre, watching the launch of Cluster on the Ariane 5 on a large screen along with more than 1000 people. The loss of the spacecraft was a traumatic experience for the Cluster team, but they bounced back with the idea of putting the instruments on one spacecraft: the 'Phoenix' mission.

There followed a long battle to get the revived mission accepted. Eventually, ESA Member States agreed to build four new Cluster craft. Launch was set for 2000, just in time to study the Sun-Earth interaction at the peak of solar activity.

Since then, Philippe has been closely involved in ensuring that Cluster repaid the efforts of all those who played a role in reviving the mission. During its lifetime, scientists are using Cluster to uncover secrets of the auroras and solar storms; Cluster data are being used to construct a three-dimensional model of the magnetosphere and to probe in detail the processes that take place there; results from Cluster are revolutionising our understanding of how the Sun interacts with the near-Earth environment and are providing new insight into phenomena that occur across the Universe.


Last Update: 28 February 2014

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