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SPACE FLIGHT 2005 - European Space Activities
 

Europe's efforts to reinvigorate its faltering space activities after the long decline since the mid-1990s, still anticipated in 2003, have not yet materialized but remain at a low level compared to astronautics activities of NASA, DOD, Russia and China. Ongoing efforts by the European Union (EU) on an emerging new European space strategy for ESA (European Space Agency) to achieve an autonomous Europe in space under Europe's new constitution that makes Space and Defense an EU responsibility still remained largely unresolved. At end-2005, ESA officials approved a sum of 8 billion Euro ($9.4 billion) for ESA's next five-year spending program, including a larger-than-requested 650-million-Euro spending package for utilization of the ISS.

After the decline of Europe's commercial activities in space continued in 2004, the year 2005 brought the probably greatest mission success in ESA history with the landing of the Huygens space probe on Saturn moon Titan. After the December 2002 failure of the new EC (enhanced capability) version of the Ariane 5, designed to lift 10 tons to geostationary transfer orbit, enough for two big communications satellites at once, European industry accomplished a quick comeback with the successful first launch of an Ariane 5 ECA in 2005 as one of five flights (out of five attempts) of the Ariane 5-G (generic, 3 flights) and -ECA (2 flights) rockets (2004: 3), bringing its program total to 25. The five heavy-lift vehicles of 2005 carried a total of 10 satellite payloads: 7 commercial comsats, 1 weather satellite (MSG-1/Meteosat), and 2 technology test satellites.

In 2005, the most significant space undertaking besides the Titan landing for the fifteen European countries engaged in space continued to be the development of the Galileo (GNSS) navigation and global positioning system, which received top-level approval. Starting in 2008, it will enable Europe to be independent of the U.S. GPS system, an area where major strategic and commercial stakes are at play. In its final configuration, Galileo (not to be confused with NASA's Jupiter probe) will consist of a constellation of 30 small satellites weighing 700 kg each (27 operational, 3 backup), placed in medium orbit (24,000 km) above Earth, with orbit inclination 55 degrees. It will be independent of, but compatible with, the GPS system, i.e., if USA and Europe agree on cooperation at some future date, interoperability would be possible. In 2005, the program reached a major milestone with the successful Baikonur launch, on December 28, of GIOVE-A, the first of two Galileo test-bed satellites, on a Russian Soyuz-FG/Fregat.

In the human space flight area, while the ISS remains ESA's biggest single ongoing program and its only engagement in Human Space Flight, European ISS share (totaling 8.6 percent) remains unchanged due to top-level agreement signed by previous governments of the participating nations. France has a relatively large and active national space program, including bi-lateral (i.e., outside of ESA) activities with the USA and Russia. In Italy, the Italian Space Agency ASI, created in 1988, participates in the ISS program through ESA but also had entered a protocol with NASA for the delivery of three multipurpose logistics modules (MPLM) for the ISS. Two MPLMs have already flown in space, "Leonardo" and "Raffaello"; the third MPLM is "Donatello". Italy has also developed a second ISS Node (Node-2), which was delivered to NASA in June 2003. In Germany, the lack of interest of its government (unlike Italy's and France's) in this field continued in 2005. Germany is the second major ESA contributor after France, but it has essentially no national space program of its own remaining.

In the space science area, in 2005, there were the Huygens touchdown on Titan and two new European spacecraft launches: the Cryosat mission and the planetary probe Venus Express.

Huygens After a 7-year interplanetary journey covering 3.5 billion km, the little European probe Huygens separated from its U.S. Cassini mothership on December 25, 2004, and started on its 4 million km ballistic path towards Titan, largest of Saturn's 31 natural satellites, arriving on January 14. After a parachute-assisted descent, during which its main instruments analyzed the atmosphere for more than two hours, the probe landed successfully on semi-solid ground, likened to "wet sand" (possibly methane sludge). Huygens and its batteries survived for almost 5 hours, twice as long as expected, transmitting data and 350 pictures to Earth via the receding Cassini mothership.

Cryosat ESA's Cryosat, build to carry out a three-year mission to monitor changes in the elevation and thickness of polar ice sheets and floating sea ice with very great precision, was lost when its Russian Rokot launcher failed after liftoff on October 8, 2005. In early 2006, the ESA member states, in a meeting of the ESA Earth Observation Programme Board, approved the building and launching of a recovery mission, Cryosat-2.

Venus Express The 1240-kg Venus Express spacecraft was launched on November 9 aboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The planetary explorer will reach Earth's cloud-shrouded sister planet in a record time of 153 days, on April 11, 2006. Venus Express is the first mission to visit Venus since NASA's 1989-1994 Magellan mission, but unlike the Magellan probe, Venus Express will not be capable of imaging the surface of Venus with high spatial resolution through cloud-penetrating imaging radar. Instead, it is equipped with several instruments designed to study Venus in new ways. Venus Express was built mostly with spare parts and designs from the European Mars Express and Rosetta missions. Its instruments are a plasma analyzer (ASPERA-4/Analyzer of Space Plasmas and Energetic Atoms), a magnetometer (MAG), three spectrometers (PFS/Planetary Fourier Spectrometer; SPICAV/Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Venus; and VIRTIS/Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer), a radio sounder (VeRa/Venus Radio), and a digital camera VMC/Venus Monitoring Camera).

Rosetta. The comet intercept mission Rosetta was approved in November 1993 by ESA's Science Programme Committee as the Planetary Cornerstone Mission in ESA's long-term space science program. The mission goal was initially set for a rendezvous with Comet 46 P/Wirtanen. After postponement of the initial launch a new target was selected: Comet 67 P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Launched on an Ariane 5 on March 2, 2004, the probe will rendezvous with the comet in 2014 and release a landing craft named Philae. It is hoped that on its 10-year journey to the comet, the spacecraft will pass by at least one asteroid. Highlights in 2005 included Rosetta's observation of the NASA Deep Impact probe's encounter with Comet Tempel-1, using four active instruments (ALICE, MIRO, OSIRIS and VIRTIS). Three of the remote sensing instruments were active continuously from June 29 to July 14. The observation campaign was very successful: all instruments operated very well and their science data were collected as planned and were analyzed. A few problems that occurred with the commanding timing of OSIRIS and with the MIRO instrument have been overcome in both cases within about 24 hours, with minor impact on the overall instrument operations and data return. The exercise was the first scientific planning and operations scenario over large scale and an extended period of time for the Rosetta mission, providing important experience and a wealth of lessons learned. They will be very useful to design the spacecraft operations around Rosetta's encounter with its target Comet 67 P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Envisat. In 2005, ESA's operational environmental satellite Envisat, the largest Earth Observation spacecraft ever built, continued its observations after its launch on March 1, 2002, on the 11th Ariane 5. The 18,100 lbs (8200 kg) satellite circles Earth in a polar orbit at 800 km altitude, completing a revolution of Earth every 100 minutes. Because of its polar sun-synchronous orbit, it flies over and examines the same region of the Earth every 35 days under identical conditions of lighting. The 25 m long and 10 m wide satellite, about the size of a bus, is equipped with ten advanced instruments (seven from ESA, the others from France, Great Britain, Germany and Netherlands) including an Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR), a Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS), an Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR), a Radio Altimeter (RA-2), a Global Ozone Monitoring by Occultation of Stars (GOMOS) instrument, a Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmosphere Sounding (MIPAS) and a Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Cartography (SCIAMACHY). It is scanning the Earth similar to the way vertical slices are peeled off an orange as it is turned in one's hand. This enables Envisat to continuously scrutinize the Earth's surface (land, oceans, ice caps) and atmosphere, gathering a huge volume of information to survey and protect the planet.

SPOT 5. Launched on May 4, 2002, by the 112th Ariane 4 from Kourou (French Guiana), the fifth imaging satellite of the commercial Spot Image Company (CNES-38.5%, EADS-35.66%, Alcatel-5.12%, IGN-7.81%), in 2005 continued operations in its polar sun-synchronous orbit of 813 km altitude. Unique features of the SPOT system are high resolution, stereo imaging and revisit capability. The SPOT satellite Earth Observation System was designed by the CNES, the French Space Agency, and developed with the participation of Sweden and Belgium.

INTEGRAL. ESA's INTEGRAL (International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory), a cooperative project with Russia and USA, continued successful operations in 2005. Launched on October 17, 2002, on a Russian Proton rocket into a 72-hour orbit with 51.6 deg inclination, a perigee height of 9,000 km and an apogee height of 155,000 km, the sensitive gamma-ray observatory provides new insights into the most violent and exotic objects of the Universe, such as black holes, neutron stars, active galactic nuclei and supernovae. In 2005, INTEGRAL operations continue smoothly with the spacecraft, instruments and ground segment performing nominally. The agreement with NASA for the use of the Goldstone Deep Space Network (DSN) station has been extended for one year until December 16, 2006. Its instruments have produced the first all-sky map of the 511 keV line emission produced when electrons and their anti-matter equivalents, positrons, collide and annihilate. One intriguing possibility is that the emission is produced by the annihilation or decay of an exotic form of Dark Matter, yet to be discovered (actually discovered in 2006). The nature of the sources responsible for the anti-matter is clearly one of the key areas for further investigation by INTEGRAL over the coming years. The INTEGRAL imager (IBIS) has been used to detect a new persistent soft gamma-ray source, IGR J18135-1751, which is coincident with one of several sources of extreme energy in the inner part of the Galaxy. These objects are of great interest as they may be the sites of cosmic high-energy particle accelerators.

XMM-Newton. Europe's XMM (X-ray Multi Mirror)-Newton observatory, launched on December 10, 1999, on an Ariane 5, is the largest European science research satellite ever built. Operating in an orbit of 113,946 x 7000 km (71,216 x 4375 miles) inclined at 40 degrees to the equator, the telescope has a length of nearly 11 m (36 ft.), with a mass of almost 4 metric tons (8,800 lbs). Using its three X-ray detecting instruments, a photon imaging camera, reflection grating spectrometer, and optical telescope, in 2002, it obtained the first reliable measurement ever of the mass-to-radius ratio of a neutron star (EXO 0748-676). In 2005, XMM-Newton continued to probe into the unknown. After five years of operations, its research has resulted in 1000 scientific paper in top-class scientific journals, corresponding to an equivalent number of results. Scientific results based on XMM-Newton data are now being published at a steady rate of almost 300 papers per year, comparable to the famous Hubble Telescope. XMM-Newton has already unveiled many stars' secrets. Among its discoveries, it characterized for the first time X-ray spectra and light curves of some classes of proto-stars (stars being born) and provided an unprecedented insight into the X-ray variability of the corona of stars similar to our Sun. With its capability to respond as quickly as five hours to target-of-opportunity requests for observing elusive gamma-ray bursts, this space observatory detected for the first time an X-ray halo around the bursts, where the halo appeared as concentric ring-like structures centered on the burst location. XMM-Newton is shedding new light on supernovae remnants, as well as on neutron stars. On the latter, an exciting discovery was that of a bow shock aligned with the supersonic motion of a neutron star (called 'Geminga'), and the detection of hot spots indicating that the configuration of neutron stars magnetic field and surface temperatures are much more complex than previously thought.

Smart-1. Smart-1 (Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology 1) is Europe's first lunar spacecraft. The 370-kg (816 lbs) spacecraft was launched on September 27 with two commercial communications satellites (Insat 3E, e-Bird) on an Ariane 5G. Built by Swedish Space Corp., it was intended to demonstrate new technologies for future missions, in this case the use of solar-electric propulsion as the primary power source for its ion engine, fueled by xenon gas. The single engine was fired for the first time on September 30, 2003. The transfer to the Moon, propelled by intermittent ion thruster firings and celestial mechanics (Moon "resonances" and swing-bys), covered a distance of 100 million km, a long spiraling journey on only 60 liters of fuel that took 18 months. On November 15, 2004, the spacecraft encountered its first perilune, after 332 orbits around the Earth. The ion drive was fired on that day to brake the spacecraft into lunar orbit, after which, over several months, its engine was fired repeatedly to lower the spacecraft into an operational orbit of 3000 x 300 km. This was achieved by 13 January 2005, heralding the begin of its science program in March 2005, using spectrometers for X-rays and near infrared as well as a camera for color imaging. In September 2006, Smart-1 will end its journey and exploration of the Moon by crashing into the lunar surface in an area called the "Lake of Excellence".

Mars Express. Mars Express was Europe's entry into the ongoing and slowly expanding robotic exploration of the Red Planet from Earth as precursors to later missions by human explorers. The probe was launched on June 2, 2003, from the Baikonur launch site by a Russian Soyuz/Fregat rocket. After a six-month journey, it arrived at Mars in December. Six days before arrival, Mars Express ejected the Beagle 2 lander, which was to have made its own way to the correct landing site on the surface but was lost, failing to make contact with orbiting spacecraft and Earth-based radio telescopes. The Mars Express orbiter successfully entered Martian orbit on December 25, first maneuvering into a highly elliptical capture orbit, from which it moved into its operational near polar orbit later in January 2004. Highly successful operations and stunning close-up imagery of the Mars surface went on during 2004 and 2005. Mars Express continues to remotely explore the Red Planet with a sophisticated instrument package comprising the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC); Energetic Neutral Atoms Analyzer (ASPERA); Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS); Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer (OMEGA); Sub-Surface Sounding Radar Altimeter (MARSIS); Mars Radio Science Experiment (MaRS); and the Ultraviolet and Infrared Atmospheric Spectrometer (SPICAM).