The launch of Cluster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome
The Cluster II mission and the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) comprise the Solar Terrestrial Science Programme (STSP) first Cornerstone of European Space Agency’s (ESA) Horizon 2000 Programme. Together Cluster II and SOHO investigate the relationship between the Sun and the Earth’s environment.
Cluster II consists of a collection of four satellites free flying in a tetrahedral formation around Earth. ESA launched the Cluster II satellites in pairs from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in July and August of 2000.
The satellites relay the most detailed ever information in three dimensions about how the solar wind affects the Earth's magnetosphere. Each satellite has the same eleven instruments on board sampling the plasma environment around the Earth, including magnetic and electric fields, ions and electrons. The relative positions and distances of the four satellites can be adapted to the various regions of scientific interest in the Earth's magnetosphere. Cluster is currently approved to the end of 2016 (subject to a mid-term review in 2014).
The Cluster Joint Science Operations Centre (JSOC) was set up within RAL Space to support the ESA Project Science Team, the instrument teams and ESA's Mission Operation Centre. JSOC designed, developed, implemented, tested and now operates the system and tools required to support Cluster II science operations, under contract to ESA. In August 2010 Cluster celebrates its tenth year in space.
Wave Experiment Consortium (link opens in a new window) (WEC) consists of five of the Cluster instruments (DWP, EFW, STAFF, WBD, WHISPER) designed to measure electric and magnetic fields and waves, grouped together in order to maximise resources such as power and telemetry information.