Cluster Launch Details Released
2 February 1999New photographs and details of the dual launches involving the four Cluster spacecraft have now been posted on the Cluster web site. The new pages include information on launch preparations, the launch site, the spacecraft orbits and the Soyuz launcher with its newly developed Fregat upper stage which will boost the Cluster spacecraft into their preliminary parking orbit.
The ambitious ESA mission to explore near-Earth space will involve two Soyuz rockets, each fitted with the Fregat fourth stage. The Soyuz vehicles will be provided by the Starsem company, a French-Russian company which is marketing the highly reliable booster in the West.
The first pair of Cluster II satellites (FM6 and FM7) is currently set for launch in mid June, 2000 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, to be followed by the second pair (FM5 and FM8) in mid-July 2000. They will eventually be inserted into highly elliptical polar orbits which vary from 25,500 to 125,000 km above the Earth.
For the next two years, the spacecraft will fly in formation as they provide the first three-dimensional study of the interaction between the solar wind and Earth's magnetic shield - the magnetosphere.