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Sino-European JV in Space Goes Online

As their first "joint venture" satellite beamed data back to Earth, Chinese and European scientists said Monday they anticipate even greater collaboration in the years ahead.

The TC-1, a Chinese satellite carrying eight special instruments from the European Space Agency (ESA), was put into operation Monday, slightly more than three months after it was launched into orbit atop a Chinese Long March rocket.

"The Sino-European Double Star Program has scored important achievements in its current phase," said Luan Enjie, director of the China National Space Administration.

The Double Star mission will involve two satellites flying in complementary orbits around the Earth. ESA's contribution to the mission includes the eight on-board scientific instruments and support to the ground segment for four hours each day via its satellite tracking station in Spain.

The Double Star duo will operate alongside four Cluster II satellites, a project the Europeans began in 2000 to study how solar winds affect the Earth.

"The close cooperation 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.

Luan revealed that China and Europe will soon sign a significant new agreement to expand cooperation in space. He did not provide details.

The TC-1 designation is an abbreviation of "Tance," or "Explorer." Flying in a highly elliptical equatorial orbit, it is designed to circle the planet for at least 18 months to track space storms and improve the safety of missions, according to Liu Zhenxing, chief scientist of the Double Star Program.

Since it was propelled into orbit on December 30, the satellite has collected 15 gigabytes of data, including discoveries regarding electromagnetic fields and particle activities in the magnetosphere near the Earth, reported Liu.

European scientist Philippe Escobet said they were very happy and even surprised by the initial results from Double Star. He said the project is considered extremely important because "it will greatly increase our knowledge of the magnetosphere and the relationship between the Earth and the sun."

The positions and orbits of the two Double Star satellites provide more information on the magnetosphere than is possible with ESA's Cluster alone.

For example, at present it is impossible to determine the exact region where sun storms producing bright auroras are formed. However, the simultaneous high-resolution measurements to be made by Double Star and Cluster are expected to provide the answer.

Escobet said that he was certain cooperation between China and Europe in space ventures would expand in the future.

Expressing his thanks to Liu Zhenxing, "the great scientist who invented the Double Star," Escobet said Chinese scientists are welcome to participate in all the ongoing European missions.

(China Daily April 13, 2004)

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