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SPACE FLIGHT 2002 -- European Space Activities

Europe's efforts to reinvigorate space activities after their long decline since the mid-1990s, in 2002 remained modest compared to astronautics activities of NASA, DOD, and Russia. Work was underway 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 a EU responsibility. On orders from European countries' government ministers unhappy with cost and competitiveness of the launch-vehicle sector, ESA was charged with readying this sector for a potentially sweeping reorganization. This task was giving particular poignancy in 2002 by another stunning failure of the Ariane 5 heavy launcher.

All in all, the year 2002 did not bring the much-needed breakthrough of Europe's commercial space industry in its faltering attempts at recovery, despite continued successful launches of Arianespace's Ariane 4 workhorse. The heavy-lift Ariane 5 was launched four times, bringing its total to 14, but the failure of the upgraded Ariane 5 EC-A on December 11, carrying the European high-value comsats Hot Bird 7 and STENTOR, dealt a severe blow to European spaceflight, setting it back to an unprecedented low. The new EC-A version of the Ariane 5, designed to lift 10 tons to geostationary transfer orbit, enough for two big communications satellites at once, uses a new cryogenic upper stage, an improved Vulcain 2 main stage engine and solid boosters loaded with 10 percent more propellant. The rocket failed shortly after liftoff when the Vulcain 2 caused the vehicle to lose control and self-destruct at 456 seconds. For the Ariane 4, 2002 saw eight successful launches, up two from the year 2001 (which had a problem with satellite delivery delays), carrying 10 (2001: 7) commercial satellites for customers such as India, UK and USA. Among its payloads were two Intelsats, the Spot 5 imaging satellite, and two satellites of the New Skies Satellites (NSS) system, a promising emerging global satcom operator. At year's end, the Ariane 4 had flown 144 times, with seven failures (= 95.1% reliability) from its Kourou/French Guyana spaceport. The three successful Ariane 5s carried five satellites, including the Italian Atlantic Bird-1 comsat and Envisat, Europe's advanced environmental satellite.

In 2002, the most significant space event for Europe was the unanimous decision, on March 26, by the transport ministers of the fifteen European countries, after more than three years of difficult negotiations, to launch the Galileo navigation and global positioning system. Starting in 2008, this will enable Europe to be independent of the U.S. GPS system, an area where major strategic and commercial stakes are at play. By end-2002, the project was already oversubscribed, exceeding 125 percent. 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. Final top-level approval for Galileo was expected in 2003.

In the human space flight area, while the International Space Station ISS remains ESA's biggest single ongoing program and its only engagement in the human space flight endeavor, 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 has a protocol with NASA for the delivery of multipurpose logistics modules (MPLM) for the ISS. Two MPLMs have already been delivered, Leonardo and Raffaello, and both flew in 2001. The third MPLM is Donatello, and Italy has also developed a second ISS Node, to be delivered in 2003. In Germany, the faltering interest of the German government (unlike Italy's and France's) in this field continued in 2002. Germany is the second major ESA contributor after France, but it has only a very small national space program.

Envisat. ESA's operational environmental satellite Envisat was launched on March 1 on the 11th Ariane 5. The 18,100 lbs (8200 kg) satellite reached its polar orbit at 800 km altitude with great precision, completing a revolution of Earth ever 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 and Germany/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 and atmosphere and gather a huge volume of information to survey and protect the planet.

Spot 5. Launched on May 4 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%) and the 200th satellite launched by an Ariane 4, arrived successfully in its polar sun-synchronous orbit of 813 km altitude. The 6680 lb (3030 kg) satellite is similar to its predecessor Spot 4, launched in 1998, but carries more advanced instruments with improved image quality and rate of delivery. Among else, with two special cameras it can obtain 3D images with a resolution of 10 m over a 120 km footprint, photographing 126,000 square kilometers every 24 hours, convertible into stereo images after processing.

INTEGRAL. ESA's INTEGRAL (International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory), a cooperative project with Russia and USA, was launched successfully on October 17 on a Russian Proton rocket into a 72-hour orbit with an inclination of 51.6 deg, a perigee height of 9,000 km and an apogee height of 155,000 km. The most sensitive gamma-ray observatory ever launched, INTEGRAL provides new insights into the most violent and exotic objects of the Universe, such as black holes, neutron stars, active galactic nuclei and supernovae. It also helps scientists to understand processes such as the formation of new chemical elements and the mysterious gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic phenomena in the Universe. This is made possible by INTEGRAL's combination of fine spectroscopy and imaging of gamma -ray emissions in the energy range of 15 KeV to 10 MeV.

Newton XMM. Europe's Newton XMM (X-ray Multi Mirror) 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). These objects are believed to be among the densest in the Universe. The investigation, led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), indicated that the neutron star probably contains normal matter and not the exotic plasma of dissolved matter that scientists hypothesized might occur if the great gravitational forces present cause elementary particles like protons, neutrons and electrons to fuse. In 2002, XMM-Newton also detected unexpectedly large amounts of iron in the spectrum of a quasar (APM 08279+5255), which could mean that (1) the Universe is much older than the 15 billion years currently believed, or (2) iron can be produced in an alternate manner totally unknown to present-day science.