Second Cluster pair soar into the skies above Baikonur
9 August 2000At 17.13 local time (13.13 CEST) today, the second pair of Cluster spacecraft lifted off from pad 6 at Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle. On a scorching summer afternoon, with temperatures well over 40°C, conditions were perfect for this second act in the Cluster launch drama.
Topped by a giant fairing emblazoned with a rectangular blue Cluster logo, the white, dart-shaped launch vehicle lifted off from pad 6 exactly on time. The vehicle soared into a blue sky with its precious payload of ESA spacecraft. Marked by a trail of flame, the launcher disappeared from view some 90 seconds later, after breaking through a thin layer of upper ice cloud.
Within a few minutes, the ground team was able to confirm that the first three stages of the Soyuz had operated perfectly and the protective fairing had successfully separated from the Soyuz. 12½ minutes after the spectacular lift-off, confirmation came through that the first engine firing of the Fregat upper stage had also been successfully completed.
The Fregat and its Cluster satellites, Rumba and Tango are now safely installed in their initial preliminary orbit, some 200 km above the Earth. They will remain out of contact from ground stations for more than an hour as they head south east over the Pacific Ocean, and swing back towards Africa, where the second Fregat burn will take place.