Universal praise for successful launch of second Cluster pair
9 August 2000Two successful launches in less than a month. That is the proud record of the European Space Agency's Cluster programme and the Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle provided by the French-Russian Starsem consortium after today's blast-off from Baikonur Cosmodrome."I am very proud to let you know that all four satellites are now in orbit," said Professor Roger Bonnet, ESA Director of Science. "The launch today was absolutely nominal. After so many years of expectations, ESA has kept its promises to the scientists."
At 17.13 local time (13.13 CEST), the Soyuz lifted off from pad 6, carrying the second pair of spacecraft in the Cluster quartet. Hundreds of scientists around the world watched with bated breath as the vehicle soared into a clear blue sky with its precious payload.
A few minutes after the spectacular lift-off, the Russian 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 into the mission, confirmation came through that the first engine firing of the Fregat upper stage had also been successfully completed.
Although the Fregat and its Cluster satellites, Rumba and Tango, were safely installed in their initial preliminary orbit, some 200 km above the Earth, one more vital manoeuvre remained - the second burn of the Fregat main engine. This major landmark took place out of contact from ground stations as the upper stage passed over Africa.
Spontaneous clapping from everyone concerned marked the announcement by Alan Smith, Cluster Mission Director at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, that the ground station in Kiruna (Sweden) had acquired signals from both Rumba and Tango. The second Cluster pair had separated from the Fregat and were following their individual elliptical paths which took them between 250 and 18,000 km above the Earth.
To the delight of everyone involved in the mission, the spacecraft seem to be in good health and ready for the prolonged journey to their operational polar orbits during the week ahead.
At a special media event held at the Royal Society in London, several hundred VIPs and guests also responded enthusiastically to the afternoon's events.
In a statement read by Dr Ian Corbett, Director of Science of the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the UK Science Minister Lord Sainsbury said, "This is a major achievement for ESA and its partners, particularly following the tragic demise of the first mission."
"We've done what we promised we would do in 1996," said John Credland, ESA's Head of Scientific Projects Department. "It's fantastic."
"I am tremendously pleased to be here and watch such a perfect launch," said Colin Hicks, Director General of the British National Space Centre.
Cluster Project Scientist Philippe Escoubet paid tribute to the scientists who had endured the long wait before their hard work came to fruition.
"It's a big day for the science world," he said. "Some of the scientists have been working on this mission for 15 years. They have overcome adversity to revive Cluster and raise it from the ashes."
With a broad smile he added, "We're now looking forward to bringing the quartet together, commissioning the experiments and then analysing a flood of exciting data over the next two years."