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China Launches Second Double Star

Yesterday, 25 July at 09:05 CEST (15:05 local time) the Chinese National Space Administration successfully launched Tan Ce 2, the second of the Double Star science satellites. This marks the latest important milestone in the scientific collaboration between China and the European Space Agency.

Tan Ce (“Explorer”) 2 was launched from the Taiyuan spaceport west of Beijing (Zhangye province) using a Long March 2C rocket. The launch, initially scheduled for today 26 July, took place one day earlier in order to avoid adverse weather conditions expected in the days to come. The spacecraft will join Tan Ce 1, which was launched on 29 December 2003, to complete the Double Star configuration.

About 8 hours after launch the two solid booms holding the magnetometers were successfully deployed. In the next few weeks, all spacecraft sub-systems will be checked out and the commissioning of the on-board scientific instrument will follow.

Double Star will operate alongside ESA?s quartet of Cluster satellites to closely study the interaction between the solar wind and the Earth?s magnetic field. Together, these missions will provide the most detailed view to date. TC-1 is already returning a wealth of scientific data. Back in January, both missions tracked a coronal mass ejection from the Sun and gathered valuable data about the Earth’s bow shock.

Tan Ce 2 reached its nominal orbit, with perigee at 682 km, apogee at 38279 km and inclination of 90.1 deg. The positions and orbit of the Double Star satellites have been carefully defined to enable exploration of the magnetosphere on a larger scale than is possible with Cluster alone. One example of this coordinated activity is the study of the substorms that produce aurorae.

The exact region where these emissions of brightness form is still unclear, but the simultaneous high-resolution measurements combined under these two missions are expected to provide an answer.

ESA is contributing eight scientific instruments to the mission, seven of which are Cluster-derived units.

These are the first ever European experiments to fly on a Chinese satellite. ESA will also be providing ground segment support, four hours each day, via its Villafranca satellite tracking station in Spain.

Scientific cooperation between China and ESA goes back quite a long way. A first Agreement signed back in 1980 facilitated the exchange of scientific information. Thirteen years later, the collaboration focused on a specific mission, Cluster, to study the Earth’s magnetosphere.

Then, in 1997, came a big step forward. The CNSA invited ESA to participate in the Double Star dual-satellite mission to study the Earth?s magnetic field, from a perspective different but complementary to Cluster’s. The Agreement to carry out this joint mission was signed on 9 July 2001 by ESA?s then Director General Antonio Rodot? and CNSA Administrator Luan Enjie.

For Professor David Southwood, ESA?s Science Programme Director: ?Today?s successful launch marks the culmination of these joint efforts and a further important step forward in this historic collaboration between China and Europe.?

Original Source: ESA News Release

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Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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