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Astrium completes first Swarm flight unit


* Trio of satellites to explore the Earth’s geomagnetic field
* A “journey to the centre of the Earth” starting from space

Friedrichshafen, - The completion of the first flight unit of the Swarm satellite trio at Astrium in Friedrichshafen represents a milestone in the European Space Agency’s mission to explore the Earth’s geomagnetic field. The purpose of the Swarm mission is to analyse, in unprecedented detail, the geomagnetic field and its evolution over time. The results of the mission will help to improve our understanding of the Earth’s interior and climate. The trio of satellites are set for launch from Plesetsk in 2012.

The Swarm satellites are being put through their paces at Ottobrunn, near Munich, in a three-month series of tests designed to demonstrate their fitness for space flight. The first unit will be delivered to Munich this month. Satellites 2 and 3 will be delivered for testing in February and April 2011 respectively.

Swarm will, in a manner of speaking, follow in the footsteps of Jules Verne’s novel “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. Today, however, it is no longer necessary to dig tunnels or drill holes in order to take a close look at the composition of the Earth’s interior and the processes taking place there. With Swarm this can be achieved from orbit, with the key words in this context being “satellite remote sensing”.

Very precise, high-resolution readings of the strength and orientation of – and fluctuations in – the geomagnetic field, complemented by precise navigation, velocity measurements and measurements of the electric field intensity, will provide the observational data required to distinguish between the various sources of the geomagnetic field and to explain them through models.

The Earth’s gravitational and magnetic fields offer direct insights into the workings of its’ interior: from the variations these fields display at different times and places, scientists can draw conclusions about the dynamic processes taking place below the planet’s surface. Observation of these aspects from outer space offers a unique opportunity to take a closer look both at the composition of the interior of our planet and at the processes at work there.

The mission will enable scientists to analyse the Sun’s influence on the Earth and a better knowledge of the geomagnetic field will also provide benefits of a practical nature, such as more accurate navigation for ships and aircraft, the discovery of new natural resources below the Earth’s surface, a better understanding of the impact of the Sun on the Earth’s meteorological cycles, and timely warnings of dangerous radiation.

The three identical Swarm satellites will thus carry out the most exact survey to date of the geomagnetic field and record any changes occurring in it. The satellites will be launched into a polar orbit at an altitude of 490 km. After four years, two of the satellites will be steered into a lower orbit, circling the Earth in tandem at a height of 300 km. The course of third, higher-orbiting satellite will then be altered to cross the path of the two satellites in the lower orbit at an angle of 90 degrees. All three satellites will be launched simultaneously from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome (around 800 km northeast of Moscow) on a single Rockot launch vehicle.

Astrium – unique experience in building magnetic-field research satellites

Astrium began developing its first satellite for magnetic-field research in deep space – the ISEE-B – back in the 1970s. This work continued with the development of the four-satellite Cluster formation that has been in orbit since 2000. In the field of low Earth orbit satellites, the German satellite Champ, also launched in 2000, was built to an Astrium design. The Swarm constellation is now the next logical step along this path. In terms of technology, Swarm has direct predecessors in the Champ satellite and the Cryosat satellite, which will map the polar ice caps and for which Astrium was also responsible. When it comes to overall system design, individual subsystems or test ranges, Astrium’ s satellite builders can draw on the wealth of experience they gained in these earlier projects.

Astrium and the ESA’s “Living Planet” Earth research programme

Swarm is part of ESA´s “Living Planet“ Programme and Astrium is also actively involved in developing other satellites for ESA’s Earth Explorer missions. Astrium is the prime contractor for the EarthCARE Earth observation satellite which is currently under construction and for the ADM-Aeolus wind mission and its Aladin instrument. Furthermore, Astrium built the ice exploring mission Cryosat-2, which was launched on April 8th, 2010. Astrium also supplied the platform for GOCE which has been successfully “surfing” the Earth’s gravitational field since 17 March 2009. Astrium also developed and built the Miras payload for the SMOS mission for the observation of soil moisture and salinity over the oceans, which was launched on 2 November 2009.

About Astrium

Astrium, a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2009, Astrium had a turnover of €4.8 billion and more than 15,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Astrium Space Transportation for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Astrium Satellites for spacecraft and ground segment, and Astrium Services for comprehensive end-to-end value-added solutions covering secure and commercial satcoms and networks, high security satellite communications equipment, bespoke geo-information and navigation services worldwide.

EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2009, the Group – comprising Airbus, Astrium, Cassidian and Eurocopter – generated revenues of € 42.8 billion and employed a workforce of more than 119,000.


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