SPACE FLIGHT 2003 -- European Space Activities

Europe's efforts to reinvigorate its faltering space activities after the long decline since the mid-1990s, in 2003 continued their its modest pace of 2002, compared to astronautics activities of NASA, DOD, Russia and China. Work was still 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 in 2002 was charged with readying this sector for a potentially sweeping reorganization, after another stunning failure of the Ariane 5 heavy launcher.

However, the year 2003 did not bring the much-needed breakthrough of Europe's commercial space industry in its flagging attempts at recovery, given particular emphasis by the last flight of Arianespace's Ariane 4 workhorse on February 15, carrying Intelsat 907. Although Arianespace was able to close its year-2003 accounts with a very small net profit after three years of losses, it still labored under the impact of the stunning failure of the upgraded Ariane 5 EC-A in December 2002 with two high-value comsats. Thus, in 2003, the heavy-lift Ariane 5G (generic) was launched only three times (2002: 4x), bringing its total to 17. Its new EC version, 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. EC-A failed shortly after liftoff when the Vulcain 2 caused the vehicle to lose control and self-destruct at 456 seconds. European industry quickly developed an Ariane 5 recovery plan, and on June 20 Arianespace concluded a preliminary contract with European aerospace conglomerate EADS Space Transportation for a batch of 30 Ariane 5 launchers (later signed in May 2004). Also in 2003, the French and Russian governments reached an agreement that would allow a Soyuz launch pad to be installed at the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, in return for Russian cooperation on future launcher technologies. The ESA project is valued at $361-million, of which half will probably be funded by France.

In 2003, the most significant space undertaking for the fifteen European countries engaged in space continued to be the development of the Galileo navigation and global positioning system, which received top-level approval. 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. Year 2003 began with the project 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.

In the human space flight area, while the 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 had entered a protocol with NASA for the delivery of three 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, which was delivered to NASA in June 2003. In Germany, the faltering interest of its government (unlike Italy's and France's) in this field continued in 2003. Germany is the second major ESA contributor after France, but it has essentially no national space program remaining. In the space science area, there were only two new European launches in 2003, the lunar probe Smart-1 and the partially successful Mars Express orbiter/lander mission. In November, ESA's Science Program Committee, because of financial reductions, cancelled the astroseismology project Eddington, which was intended to work closely with the BepiColombo Mercury probe, planned for the end of this decade jointly with Japan's JAXA.

Envisat. In 2003, ESA's operational environmental satellite Envisat 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 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 (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 2003 continued operations in its polar sun-synchronous orbit of 813 km altitude.

INTEGRAL. ESA's INTEGRAL (International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory), a cooperative project with Russia and USA, continued successful operations in 2003. Launched on October 17, 2002, 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 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. Among else, INTEGRAL in 2003 has resolved the long-standing question as to the nature of the diffuse glow of soft gamma rays seen from the central region of our Galaxy. Its observations have shown that most of the emission is produced by individual point sources.

Newton XMM. 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). 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. After numerous other significant discoveries, in November 2003 an extension of the XMM-Newton mission up to March 31, 2008, was unanimously approved by the Science Program Committee, with funding secured up to March 2006 and a provisional budget for an additional two years.

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 is 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. The transfer to the Moon, propelled by intermittent ion thruster firings and celestial mechanics (Moon "resonances" and swing-bys), takes 18 months. Smart-1 is scheduled to arrive at its goal in April 2005 to begin its science program, executed with spectrometers for X-rays and near infrared as well as a camera for color imaging.

Mars Express. Mars Express is 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. Mars Express is remotely exploring 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).