Relaunch for Cluster mission

April 11, 1997

BRITISH space scientists have received the boost they had been hoping for with news that the Cluster mission which ended in an explosion nine months ago is to be relaunched.

Funding to build Cluster 2 is to come from the European Space Agency which will also contribute almost half the cost of new scientific instruments.

The new mission, expected to be launched in mid-2000, means about 50 British research jobs are secured into the next century.

Last June, the launch of the Cluster satellites, designed to take a three-dimensional look at the effect of the sun on the earth's magnetic field, ended in disaster. The rocket, Ariane V, exploded seconds after take-off, destroying the four spaceships and 11 scientific instruments they each contained. These had been paid for by the participating member states, largely Britain and France.

There was concern that even if ESA decided it could afford to relaunch the full Cluster mission, the participating member states would be unable to afford the Ecu40 million (Pounds 28 million) cost of new instruments.

But at a meeting in Paris this week, ESA agreed to pay Ecu17.5 million towards the instrumentation costs, with Ecu6 million coming to Britain.

Ken Pounds, chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, said it was "a very successful outcome for science and PPARC".

"The unique scientific objectives of Cluster are to survive," he said. "This unique funding arrangement, because of Cluster's special background, will allow the UK to play its full part."

He said PPARC and the funding councils would still need to pay staff costs, but a "very significant contribution towards the hardware costs had been paid by ESA".

British teams, led by three principal investigators at University College and Imperial College, in London, and the University of Sheffield, will be able to rebuild the instruments which they lost in last year's launch.

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