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Release: Immediate

Reflight of failed European space mission will carry out UI experiment

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa space physics researcher Professor Donald Gurnett and his colleagues will get a second chance to carry out a scientific investigation that they have worked on for more than seven years.

That's because the European Space Agency recently decided to refly, in the year 2000, the Cluster space mission, which was lost June 4, 1996 when an Ariane-5 rocket exploded over Kourou, French Guiana on its maiden voyage, just 40 seconds after launch. Gurnett is glad to have another opportunity to conduct the experiment, which represents about $4.4 million in NASA funding, and noted that the explosion of the original Cluster, in one sense, demonstrated the integrity of the university's scientific instruments.

"The European Space Agency recovered our instruments from a swamp near the launch site. Of the four UI instruments, three were badly damaged, but one still worked perfectly. "That shows that we build very rugged instruments," Gurnett said.

Because the salvaged instrument was exposed to flames and salt water, it won't be re-used, he added. Instead, the university will re-manufacture three new instruments and use a spare that was prepared for the original Cluster.

Like its predecessor, Cluster 2 consists of a set of four spacecraft, each carrying 11 scientific experiments. The satellites will be launched in pairs by two Russian Soyuz rockets into nearly identical elliptical, polar orbits and flown in a closely spaced pyramid-like, formation. The mission will provide three-dimensional data on electrically charged particles flowing outward from the sun that cause such phenomena as magnetic storms and the northern lights. Gurnett, along with project manager Rich Huff and project engineer Don Kirchner, will use the wideband plasma wave (WBD) instruments, each roughly the size of a toaster, to gather data on radio emissions and plasma turbulence.

In addition to supporting plasma wave studies, Cluster 2 will enable Gurnett and his colleagues, UI Professors Steven Spangler and Robert Mutel, to use the four spacecraft as a single large telescope in making radio astronomy observations -- a technique called long baseline interferometry.

Cluster is part of the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) Program, an investigation including the previously launched POLAR, WIND and GEOTAIL craft, as well as the Equator-S spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 1997.