Status Report

France in Space #280

By SpaceRef Editor
January 19, 2005
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FRANCE IN SPACE, NUMBER 280 01/19/2005




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After a four billion kilometers and a seven-year long journey through the
Solar System, the Huygens probe, built by Alcatel Space as a prime
contractor, plunged into the hazy atmosphere of Titan and landed safely on
its frozen ground on January 14. The three-parachute system designed to slow
Huygens from a speed of 18 000 km/h to 1 400 km/h within three minutes
appears to have worked properly. After a two-and-a-half hour descent the
probe touched down at about 4.5 m/s. Temperature on the heat shield,
manufactured by EADS Space, reached 1,800 degrees Celsius during the
descent. After the heat-shield was jettisoned, Huygens was able to maintain
an inner temperature of 25 degrees Celsius despite a very low outside
temperature. This could explain how Huygens batteries appeared to last far
longer than expected. After landing, the spacecraft continued to transmit
from the surface for several hours, even after the Cassini orbiter dropped
below the horizon and stopped recording the data to relay them to Earth. The
Huygens mission is considered as a great success by the whole European space
community, even though a loss of one of the two communication channels for
data transmission to the Cassini mother ship reduced the number of pictures
from planned 700 to 350. However, most of the information is actually
recorded as duplicate sets were transmitted on the two channels. [ESA
01/08/2005, International Herald Tribune 01/17/2005, Space News 01/17/2005]


350 pictures of Titan collected during the descent of the Huygens probe and
on the ground revealed a landscape apparently modelled by erosion. Drain
channels, which appeared to lead to a shoreline in the distance, can be seen
as well as
dark and flat regions, which could be lakes of hydrocarbons, presumably
methane. The atmosphere was analysed at altitudes from 160 kilometers from
the surface to the ground, revealing a uniform mix of methane with nitrogen
in the stratosphere. Methane concentration increases then in the troposphere
down to the surface, which could be the result of evaporation. Clouds of
methane at 20 kilometers altitude and methane (or ethane) fog near the
surface were also detected. The area where the probe landed looks like wet
sand or soft clay composed by a mix of dirty water ice and hydrocarbon ice.
The distribution of frozen pebble-shape objects surrounding the spacecraft
indicates that they were perhaps moved by liquid flow, said scientists. The
temperature measured at ground level was minus 176 degrees Celsius (minus
285 degrees Fahrenheit). During the descent, samples of aerosols were
collected and sounds were recorded in order to detect possible thunder. [ESA
01/18/2005, International Herald Tribune 01/17/2005]


The PARASOL micro satellite (Polarization and Anisotropy of Reflectance for
Atmospheric Sciences coupled with Observations from a Lidar), launched
December 18, has provided its first images January 7, which confirm that the
satellite, its instruments and the ground-based systems are working
properly. Observation in both spectral and polarized light has been made
above Chadian desert and North Europe. Measurements of the polarization of
light reflected by the POLDER instrument (for POLarization and
Directionality of the Earth’s Reflectances) will enable to characterize
radiative and microphysical properties of the observed clouds and aerosols.
PARASOL will reach its final orbit at an altitude of 705 kilometers in March
2005 and will then begin its scientific mission as a component of the
orbital observatory “A-Train”. [CNES 01/18/2005]


The Topex-Poseidon and Jason oceanography satellites, developed jointly by
NASA and CNES, flew over the Bay of Bengal two hours after the earthquake on
December 26, 2004. American and French teams working in parallel with
altimetry data have confirmed the satellites measurements of the height of
the tsunami waves as they radiated from the earthquake epicentre. Concerning
the first wave, the satellites recorded a maximum sea surface elevation gain
of 50 centimeters (1.6 feet) on the ocean about 1 200 kilometers (746 miles)
south of Sri Lanka, followed by a sea surface depression of 40 centimeters
(1.3 feet) below normal. The distance from one wave crest to the next was
about 800 kilometers (500 miles). The tsunami wave’s speed reduced from 8700
kilometers (500 miles) per hour in the open ocean to about 32 kilometers (20
miles) per hour near the coasts, building walls of water up to 10 meters (33
feet) high. The observations made by Topex/Poseidon and Jason will help to
improve tsunami computer models and develop future tsunami early warning
systems, but cannot provide early warning system of such events because the
satellite altimeter data currently take a minimum of five hours to process.
[CNES 01/18/2005, JPL 01/11/2005]


SNECMA and EADS Space Transportation will probably merge their
liquid-propulsion and satellite-propulsion divisions and complete an
agreement this year. As the EADS Space activities involved are located
mainly in Ottobrunn and Lampoldshausen in Germany, SNECMA Chairman Jean-Paul
Béchat cautioned that this operation still needs some approval by the German
authorities. The merger idea is part of a broad reorganization of Europe’s
launcher sector following the December 2002 failure of the Ariane 5 ECA
launcher maiden flight. “There is not enough financial backing in Europe to
justify the existence of two space-motor companies” said Jean-Paul Béchat.
[Space News 01/17/2005]

** 6: IN BRIEF

ESA and Russian Space Agency Roskosmos signed January 19 a broad
launcher-cooperation agreement covering the use of Russian Soyuz rocket by
Europe and a long-term collaboration project on future launchers. [AFP

The Ariane 5 ECA launcher successfully passed its wet dress rehearsal
January 12 on the French Guiana Space Centre launch pad. During this
operation, the fuelled rocket is put through a countdown that stops right
before engine ignition. [Space News 01/17/2005]

United Kingdom largest telecoms company BT Group has agreed to sell its 15.8
percent stake in Eutelsat to a Goldman Sachs Group investment partnership
for 690 million dollars. The transaction has to be approved by Eutelsat
board and could be completed in the current fiscal year. [SatMagazine
January 2005]

France In Space is a weekly synthesis of French space activities based on
French press. Its content does not reflect an official position of the
French Government or CNES. It is provided by the CNES office and the Office
of Science and Technology of the French Embassy in Washington D.C
Editors: Jean-Jacques Tortora, Clémence Le Fèvre

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“CNES develops and leads national space programmes. The main thrust of its
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committed to fostering innovative space technologies that meet the current
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initiated by ESA, the European Space Agency, to which it is a major
contributor. It is thus a driving force behind ESA programmes and

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