ESA launches Swarm research satellites in Russia (Update)

Nov 22, 2013

The European Space Agency (ESA) on Friday launched a trio of hi-tech satellites on an unprecedented mission to map anomalies in Earth's magnetic field.

The 230-million-euro ($276-million) Swarm mission blasted off in fog aboard a Rokot launcher from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia at 1602 GMT, ESA showed in a live feed.

The launch, postponed from November 14, was the third by the Russian-made Rokot from Plesetsk this year, the Russian defence ministry said.

ESA said the satellites reached a near-polar orbit 91 minutes after launch and all sent signals back home.

The sophisticated monitors are identical, each weighing 470 kilod (1,034 pounds) and carrying instruments on an extendable boom.

They are due to operate at extremely low altitudes close to the edge of the atmosphere to measure the strength, orientation and fluctuations of the Earth's geomagnetic field.

Two will fly initially at 460 kilometres (287 miles), reduced after four years to just 300 kilometres (180 miles).

The third will start at 530 kilometres (331 miles), to offer a different angle of view.

The project aims at providing the most accurate measurements ever of Earth's magnetic field, in a mission designed to last at least five years.

The magnetism derives mainly from superheated liquid iron and nickel, which swirl in the outer core about 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) beneath the planet's surface.

Like a spinning dynamo, this subterranean metal ocean generates electrical currents and thus a magnetic field.

But the field is not constant.

The gap between the magnetic north pole and the geographical north pole has been widening since 2001 at the rate of 65 kilometres (40.6 miles) per year, compared with just 10 kilometres (six miles) per year in estimates in the early 1990s.

In addition, the magnetic field has been weakening. Since the mid-19th century it has lost around 15 percent of its strength.

Some experts wonder if this is a prelude to a reversal of magnetic polarity, something which usually occurs around every 200,000 to 300,000 years but is now considered long overdue.

Explore further: Satellites to probe Earth's strange shield

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Swarm on the launchpad

Nov 19, 2013

Preparations for Friday's launch of ESA's magnetic explorer have reached an important milestone – the constellation is now in the Plesetsk launch tower.

Satellites packed like sardines

Nov 11, 2013

(Phys.org) —The complex task of placing all three Swarm satellites on their launch adapter is complete. This is another significant milestone in preparing ESA's latest Earth observation mission for liftoff, ...

Preparing to launch Swarm

Sep 20, 2013

With the launch of ESA's Swarm trio set for 14 November, the first satellite has arrived safely at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia. This new mission will unravel one of the most mysterious aspects of our ...

Indian Mars mission suffers glitch but 'no setback'

Nov 11, 2013

India's Mars spacecraft suffered a brief engine failure Monday as scientists tried to move it into a higher orbit around Earth, but controllers denied any setback to the ambitious low-cost mission.

Recommended for you

Historical comet-landing site is looking for a name

53 minutes ago

The Rosetta mission reaches a defining moment on Wednesday November 12, when its lander, Philae, is released. After about seven hours of descent, Philae will arrive on the surface of Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ...

Image: Siding Spring grazes Mars

1 hour ago

This excellent view of Mars seen together with Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring was captured by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA, on 19 October 2014 on the morning that the enigmatic object made the closest-known ...

China to send orbiter to moon and back

5 hours ago

China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

15 hours ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

19 hours ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

User comments : 0