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The Cluster Space Mission Disaster

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 May 2010 18:57
Published on Friday, 25 February 2005 00:00


Press Conference Tuesday 19th November
UK Researchers Set Out Proposed Recovery Plan


You are invited to a Press Conference on Tuesday 19th November 1996 at 10.30 a.m. at the Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1.

On behalf of the many scientists in the UK seriously affected by the loss of the CLUSTER space mission, when the Ariane 5 rocket launching it exploded on 4 June, Professor Steve Schwartz of Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, will release a statement setting out what the researchers believe can and should be done in the UK to recover the financial and human investment already made in the project.

The other speakers at the Press Conference will be Professor David Southwood of Imperial College (formerly Chairman of the European Space Agency's Science Programme Committee) and Dr Andrew Fazakerley of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, a member of the CLUSTER instrument team. Dr Fazakerley will have on display the wreckage of an original CLUSTER instrument, built at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, recovered from a swamp near the Ariane launch site.

The Press Conference follows a one-day private meeting at the University of Warwick on Monday 18th November, when the statement to be announced by Prof. Schwartz will be finalized. This meeting will be attended by scientists directly involved with CLUSTER, researchers who were expecting to make use of the data from the mission, and other space scientists working in related areas who are concerned about the consequences of the loss.


Press Conference Schedule

Venue: The Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1 in the Council Room (ground floor).


10.00 a.m. Coffee available 10.30 - 11.10 a.m. Welcome and review of CLUSTER science objectives: Prof. Steve Schwartz


Events since Ariane 5 disaster on 4 June: Dr Andrew Fazakerley


CLUSTER II - current status and future within ESA, and the position within the UK and other participating countries: Prof. David Southwood


Statement from the UK CLUSTER scientists: Prof. Steve Schwartz


11.10 - 11.40 a.m. Question and answer session


A press pack containing the following materials will be available at the Press Conference:


  • Statement on behalf of UK researchers involved in CLUSTER

  • Review of the scientific objectives of CLUSTER

  • Look-back at failure of Ariane 5 and emergence of CLUSTER II proposal

  • CLUSTER II document prepared by ESA Science Working Team

  • Details and finances of CLUSTER II

  • UK involvement in CLUSTER

  • Recommendations from ESA committees

Background to the Press Conference - A summary

The science

The CLUSTER mission is aimed at understanding the dynamic, and at times, explosive effects on the Earth's outer atmosphere due to disturbances carried by the supersonic solar wind from the Sun throughout interplanetary space. The equivalent of 20 Hiroshima nuclear bombs is released high in the atmosphere over a period of tens of minutes. These disturbances give rise to the highly energetic particles that cause brilliant aurorae and can severely damage terrestrial communications, completely disable satellites, and knock out national power grids. As the processes responsible for these 'space weather' storms are highly variable and localized, a full three- dimensional perspective is required; thus CLUSTER's unique constellation of four closely spaced, identically equipped spacecraft was required.


The disaster

This, the ultimate space mission to unravel these processes, suffered a fatal blow when, some 40 seconds after launch, the Ariane 5 rocket which was to hoist them high into Earth orbit exploded. So important were the science questions which CLUSTER would have answered that scientists and engineers immediately began exploring ways in which four satellites might yet be put into space. Out of the ashes CLUSTER - II was born. By re-using completely the CLUSTER designs, a mission would be possible at just over a third the original cost.


The present

The future of the mission now rests with the national space agencies throughout Europe. Some have pledged the funds necessary to rebuild their instruments. Others, notably Britain, Germany and Sweden, have yet to secure 'disaster' funding. The UK is central to the mission and can provide the positive signals to our European partners necessary to re-coup the vital science of the mission.


The European Space Agency advisory committees have recommended the immediate construction of CLUSTER-II, to be launched within the next three years. The final decision will be taken towards the end of November, at a meeting of national delegations. The UK 'community' meeting at the University of Warwick on the 18th will review the science and options for consideration by the UK delegation. It is expected to press hard to turn positive remarks by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Science into specific funding in the face of the dramatic and unanticipated loss of the original spacecraft.


UK involvement

The UK provides three key instruments, measuring magnetic fields, electrons and high frequency waves, together with a national data centre for CLUSTER. Without the UK instruments, which could be supplied at a cost of less than 2% of the total European investment in the project, the mission cannot proceed and the enormous investment will be lost.



Investment to date, in millions of UK pounds:
UK 15
Others 90
European Space Agency 325

UK 7
Others 48
European Space Agency 140

Critical Dates

5 November ESA Solar System Working Group recommends re-build of CLUSTER to original design, and operations by the year 2000


7 November ESA Space Science Advisory Committee confirms this recommendation for consideration by the Science Programme Committee.


18 November UK CLUSTER community meeting


25 November UK Space Science Advisory Committee of the Particle Physics and Astronomy research Council meets to finalize UK policy


26-27 November Science Programme Committee (composed of national delegations) of the European Space Agency meets to hear the various CLUSTER recovery proposals and to lay out its programme for the near future.


Science contacts

Prof. Steve Schwartz (Community Meeting Co-ordinator) Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London Tel: 0171 975 5449; Fax 0181 983 3522; e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Prof. Andre Balogh (CLUSTER Principal Investigator) Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of London Tel: 0171 594 7768; Fax 0171 594 7772; e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Prof. Alan Johnstone (CLUSTER Principal Investigator) Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College, University of London Tel: 01483 204144; Fax: 01483 278312; e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dr Hugo St. C. Alleyne (Cluster Principal Investigator) University of Sheffield Tel: 0114 282 5235; Fax: 0114 273 1729; E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Issued by:
Dr Jacqueline Mitton, RAS Public Relations Officer
Phone: Cambridge ((0)1223) 564914
FAX: Cambridge ((0)1223) 572892
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.