The newspaper of Imperial College London
 Issue 122, 23 October 2002
Merger talks forge ahead«
Drug could cut heart attacks and strokes by a third«
China and Europe in space pre-nuptials…«
Goldsmiths' Wing reopens«
Faculty of physical sciences inauguration«
Graduate School of Engineering and Physical Sciences«
Facing new challenges«
Silwood safe, and healthy«
Soul boy makes the money market sing«
In Brief«
Media spotlight«
What's on«

China and Europe in space pre-nuptials…
by Tom Miller

THE hardware inside a Chinese space satellite is currently undergoing its final tests in London to make sure that it can 'talk' to the European science instruments it will be carrying, in advance of its mission launch in 2003.

For the last three weeks, 37 scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have been in a converted seminar room carrying out the 'pre-integration' of European Space Agency (ESA) instruments set to be carried aboard the CAS Double Star mission next year.

Double Star follows in the footsteps of ESA's Cluster mission, which is studying the effects of the Sun on the Earth's magnetosphere - the 'magnetic bubble' that protects the Earth from the worst effects of solar storms.

In a unique move, and to meet a tight mission schedule, instrument-builders and researchers at Imperial proposed that the pre-integration, the first meeting of European instruments with the 'brain' of the Chinese spacecraft, be done in Europe, the home of five of the instruments, rather than in China, where the satellites are being built.

As the Chinese hardware and the European instruments were wired together, a computer simulated space conditions outside the satellite and performed data and power system tests to check whether the equipment would function happily together.

In total over 50 European and Chinese space engineers have been working on the pre-integration, which finished on 13 October.

Chris Carr, principal investigator for the magnetometer instrument, and research officer, said: "All the European teams are satisfied with the results of the tests and are very impressed with the dedication and professionalism of their Chinese counterparts. There's been a great spirit of cooperation, which we all hope bodes well for the future," he added.

The five European scientific instruments are very similar to the equivalent instruments flown on Cluster, which launched in Summer 2000 - in fact some of the European instruments are 'spare' units from that mission.

The Chinese agency will launch two Double Star spacecraft, one into an equatorial orbit, and the other polar. The orbits are lower than Cluster and will keep Double Star mainly inside the magnetosphere.

Double Star will conduct a number of scientific investigations, most of which will augment measurements coming from the four Cluster satellites.

The Equatorial-orbiting satellite will investigate the Earth's huge magnetic tail, the region where particles are accelerated towards the polar regions by a process known as magnetic re-connection.

Professor Peter Knight, head of the department of physics, which hosted the pre-integration, welcomed the new initiative by which outstanding space scientists in China and at Imperial have been able to come together in this exciting development.

"These missions involve years of painstaking planning followed by keen anticipation of the launch: we have great hopes for this innovative mission," he said.

In July 2001 the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) signed a joint agreement to develop Double Star.

It was designed to promote reciprocal cooperation between space scientists in Europe and China, and also to pave the way for future comprehensive collaboration between the two agencies.

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