A Russian rocket at 12.06 GMT today has successfully launched into orbit a trio of European satellites – Swarm – designed to survey the planet’s magnetic field.
The €220 million European Space Agency (ESA) mission will measure temporal and spatial variations in Earth’s magnetic field in unprecedented detail. (See: ‘Mission to map Earth’s magnetic field readies for take-off‘.)
The mission lifted off from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, 800 kilometres north of Moscow. At an altitude of 490 kilometres the launch rocket released the three identical satellites that were mounted on top of its upper stage.
The flight-control team at the European Space Operation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, appeared jubilant and relieved when ground stations in the Arctic received and transmitted signals from all three satellites. “All three satellites in their target orbits,” wrote Thomas Reiter, ESA’s director of human spaceflight and operations, in a Tweet.
The mission’s nominal lifetime is just over four years, but scientists hope that it will last longer, and that it will be able to cover a full 11-year solar cycle.