Cluster needs cash lift

November 22, 1996

British space scientists must find Pounds 7 million to secure a repeat launch of the Cluster space mission that disintegrated after take-off last June, it emerged this week.

Andrew Fazakerley from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory and other Cluster scientists say a financing decision must be swift, both for the project to retain its original workforce and in order to capitalise on a rare cheap bid of Pounds 150 million to reconstruct an almost identical mission to be launched in three years.

"Cluster 2 can only be done at that new low cost if a decision is made soon," said Dr Fazakerley.

If the European Space Agency gives the mission the green light at the science programme committee next Wednesday, British scientists urgently request the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to find Pounds 7 million.

This is 2 per cent of the total investment made to date throughout Europe to fund the mission. The rest of the funds would come from the European Space Agency's 13 other member states.

Science minister Ian Taylor supports the Cluster 2 programme, but a PPARC spokesman doubts the council can commit itself to funding until early next year.

But David Southwood, professor of astronomy at Imperial College and ESA science programme committee chair when Ariane V disintegrated, said: "We must invest a small amount more to get back the science we lost, or we will be throwing away the original enormous (Pounds 500 million) investment."

If Cluster 2 proceeds, it is likely to involve launching four identical satellites to investigate the potentially catastrophic effects on the earth of particles pouring out of the sun at speeds of up to 1000km per second. UK scientists were principal investigators for three of the 11 instruments on board the original Cluster satellites.

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