Satellite gets rave reviews
With their first joint satellite beaming back fruitful data, Chinese and European space scientists Monday said they anticipate even stronger collaboration in the years ahead.
TC-1, the first Chinese satellite with scientific instruments from the European Space Agency on board, was put into operation Monday, slightly more than three months after it was launched atop a Chinese Long March rocket.
"The handover of the satellite to its users indicates the Sino-European Double Star Programme has scored important achievements in its current phase," said Luan Enjie, director of the China National Space Administration.
The Double Star mission, as its name suggests, will involve two satellites flying in complementary orbits around the Earth. The Europeans have contributed to the programme by providing eight on-board scientific instruments.
The duo will operate alongside four satellites from Cluster II project, which the Europeans started in 2000 to study how solar winds affect the Earth.
The conscientious and close co-operation between Chinese and European scientists has laid a solid foundation for the success of further space work, Luan said at the satellite handover ceremony in Beijing.
Hailing the Double Star project's contributions to mutual understanding and trust between Chinese and European scientists, Luan revealed the two will soon sign a new space agreement.
He did not cite details, but said the pact will be of great significance in expanding co-operation in space.
TC-1, which in Chinese means Explorer 1, is an equatorial satellite designed to orbit for at least 18 months to track space storms and help improve the safety of missions, according to Liu Zhenxing, chief scientist of the Double Star Programme.
Since it was propelled into orbit on December 30, the satellite has collected some 15 gigabytes of scientific data, including discoveries regarding electromagnetic fields and particle activities in the magnetosphere near the Earth, according to Liu.
In computer science, a gigabyte is a unit of information equal to one billion bytes.
Philippe Escobet, a scientist representing the Europeans, said the programme is "now seeing the first results from Double Star and we are very happy and even surprised by them."
It has been a key project because "it will increase greatly our knowledge of the magnetosphere and the relation between the Earth and the Sun," he said.
The positions and orbit of the two Double Star satellites have been carefully defined to allow the study of the magnetosphere on a larger scale than that possible with ESA's Cluster alone, according to the European agency.
An example of this co-ordinated activity is the study of the substorms producing the bright aurorae. The exact region where they form is still unclear but the simultaneous high-resolution measurements to be made by Double Star and the Europeans Cluster are expected to provide answer, the agency said.
"I wish a great success to TC-2 that is going to be launched in July and beyond that for future collaboration that I am sure will continue even stronger," Escobet said.
Expressing his thanks to Liu Zhenxing, "the great scientist who invented the Double Star," Escobet said Chinese scientists are welcomed to participate in all the on-going European missions, he said.