Cluster Quartet beat the blizzard
23 November 1999ESA's mission to study space weather has successfully overcome moredown-to-Earth weather problems. Despite major transportation difficultiescaused by a three-day-long blizzard, all four Cluster II satellites werefinally gathered together today for the first and only time in Europe.
At a special press briefing held to mark the occasion, Professor Roger Bonnet, ESA Science Director, paid tribute to the team that brought the mission back to life after the loss of Cluster I in 1996 and made the event possible.
"In the past two and a half years, a tremendous amount of work has been completed by both scientists and industry," he said. "It has been a remarkable achievement to build four satellites in such a short time."
"ESA never rejects science missions because of technical difficulties or other problems, and Cluster II is an example of this determination to succeed," he added. "Three years on, it is still a unique mission. I'm particularly happy that the science of Cluster has not been lost."
When asked about the practical value of the science data to be returned by Cluster II, Professor Bonnet said, "Solar storms had very little impact on Stone Age people, but the civilisations of the next century will rely heavily on satellites and electronic systems."
"So we had better have a forecasting system for space weather," he went on. "We need to analyse and observe our nearest star and its effects on the Earth's environment. This is a major justification for ESA's SOHO and Cluster II missions."
Project manager John Ellwood also praised the efforts of everyone involved in the Cluster II programme.
"12 hours ago, we thought we would only be able to show you three spacecraft," he said, "The fourth was to have been transported on Monday, but there was a lot of snow, so this was not possible. But thanks to the efforts of Dornier, the spacecraft left Friedrichshafen at 1 am and safely arrived here at 7 am."
"This is typical of the spirit and endeavour within the Cluster II project," he said.
Mr. Ellwood then gave the assembled media an update on the status of the four spacecraft, explaining that FM (flight model) 5, is the last of the four spacecraft to be delivered to IABG for environmental testing.
"The first pair of Cluster II spacecraft have been successfully integrated and completed all of their functional electrical testing," he said. "One is in the thermal-vacuum chamber and will start tests at the end of this week. And the last one has literally just been taken out of its container and will go into its acoustic test programme by the end of this year."
"Everything is on schedule for the two launches of Cluster II in mid-2000," he concluded. "We are confident that all will be ready by April next year."