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Dolores Beasley Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1753)

July 13, 2000

Susan Hendrix Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD (Phone: 301/286-7745)

RELEASE: 00-105


An international collaboration will investigate a struggle that's raging in space -- a turbulent battle between the Earth's magnetic field and a solar wind blowing about one to two million miles per hour. Four satellites, flying in formation, will be used to examine this complex interaction between the Earth and the Sun.

It all begins with the first of two launches of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Cluster spacecraft. The first launch is set for July 15 at 8:43 a.m. EDT in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Two satellites will be carried into orbit by a Russian Soyuz rocket. A second pair is scheduled to launch August 9.

"Cluster is just one example of the marvelous and sophisticated space exploration fleets that can be outfitted through the unselfish cooperation between ESA and NASA," said Larry Christensen, Cluster project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD.

During its two-year mission, the quartet of satellites will travel around the Earth in a tetrahedral -- or triangular pyramid -- formation, collecting data where the solar wind, which is a gas comprised primarily of electrons and protons, impacts the Earth's magnetic field. The unprecedented detail provided by Cluster will allow scientists to assemble the first thorough three-dimensional maps of the environment that surrounds and protects our planet.

Each spacecraft will carry the following complement of 11 identical instruments:

Active Spacecraft Potential Control (ASPOC) -- will reduce the electric charge on the spacecraft, so very low-speed electrons

can be measured. (Austria) Cluster Ion Spectrometry (CIS) -- will measure the relative abundance of protons and helium nuclei and determine their three- dimensional distribution in the solar wind and magnetosphere. (France) Digital Wave Processor (DWP) -- will provide data processing for the plasma wave instruments. (Great Britain) Electron Drift Instrument (EDI) -- will determine strength and direction of the ambient electric field. (Germany) Electric Fields and Waves (EFW) -- will measure fluctuating electric fields in the plasma surrounding the spacecraft. (Sweden) Fluxgate Magnetometer (FGM) -- will measure static and fluctuating magnetic fields at the spacecraft. (Great Britain) Plasma Electron and Current Experiment (PEACE) -- will provide three-dimensional measurements of electron distributions in the solar wind and magnetosphere. (Great Britain) Research with Adaptive Particle Imaging Detectors (RAPID) -- will measure energetic ions and electrons. (Germany) Spatio-Temporal Analysis of Field Fluctuations (STAFF) -- will measure high frequency waves in the local plasma. (France) Wideband (WBD) Plasma Wave Investigation -- will detect very high-frequency plasma waves at very high time-resolution. (U.S. - - University of Iowa) Waves of High Frequency and Sounder for Probing of Density by Relaxation (WHISPER) -- will use high-frequency plasma waves to probe surrounding plasma to determine the local density of charged particles. (France)

The current Cluster mission replaces the original spacecraft, which were lost in 1996 shortly after liftoff.

"Instruments aboard Cluster will provide the only 3-D fast diagnostic tool for studying the Sun-Earth connection and entry of plasma into the magnetosphere," said Dino Machi, Cluster program manager at Goddard. "The mission is extremely important because particularly energetic particles can have a dramatic effect on human activities, disrupting electrical power and telecommunications or causing serious anomalies in satellite operations, especially those in geostationary orbit."

Cluster will join the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), launched in December 1995, as the second cooperative solar-terrestrial project between ESA and NASA. NASA will provide project management and funding for the U.S. principal investigator and U.S. co-investigator hardware investigations, assist ESA with

launch and early operations support, provide scheduling support and transmit WBD data from Cluster to the University of Iowa via the Agency's Deep Space Network.

More information on this mission can be found on the following Internet web sites:


and (Live launch webcast by ESA)