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Reflight of failed European space mission will carry out UI experiment
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa space physics researcher Professor
Donald Gurnett and his colleagues will get a second chance to carry out a
scientific investigation that they have worked on for more than seven years.
That's because the European Space Agency recently decided to refly, in the
year 2000, the Cluster space mission, which was lost June 4, 1996 when an
Ariane-5 rocket exploded over Kourou, French Guiana on its maiden voyage,
just 40 seconds after launch. Gurnett is glad to have another opportunity
to conduct the experiment, which represents about $4.4 million in NASA funding,
and noted that the explosion of the original Cluster, in one sense, demonstrated
the integrity of the university's scientific instruments.
"The European Space Agency recovered our instruments from a swamp near
the launch site. Of the four UI instruments, three were badly damaged, but
one still worked perfectly. "That shows that we build very rugged instruments,"
Because the salvaged instrument was exposed to flames and salt water, it
won't be re-used, he added. Instead, the university will re-manufacture three
new instruments and use a spare that was prepared for the original Cluster.
Like its predecessor, Cluster 2 consists of a set of four spacecraft, each
carrying 11 scientific experiments. The satellites will be launched in pairs
by two Russian Soyuz rockets into nearly identical elliptical, polar orbits
and flown in a closely spaced pyramid-like, formation. The mission will provide
three-dimensional data on electrically charged particles flowing outward from
the sun that cause such phenomena as magnetic storms and the northern lights.
Gurnett, along with project manager Rich Huff and project engineer Don Kirchner,
will use the wideband plasma wave (WBD) instruments, each roughly the size
of a toaster, to gather data on radio emissions and plasma turbulence.
In addition to supporting plasma wave studies, Cluster 2 will enable Gurnett
and his colleagues, UI Professors Steven Spangler and Robert Mutel, to use
the four spacecraft as a single large telescope in making radio astronomy
observations -- a technique called long baseline interferometry.
Cluster is part of the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) Program,
an investigation including the previously launched POLAR, WIND and GEOTAIL
craft, as well as the Equator-S spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 1997.