The Cluster mission
Abstract. The Cluster mission, ESA’s first cornerstone project, together with the SOHO mission, dating back to the first proposals in 1982, was finally launched in the summer of 2000. On 16 July and 9 August, respectively, two Russian Soyuz rockets blasted off from the Russian cosmodrome in Baikonour to deliver two Cluster spacecraft, each into their proper orbit. By the end of August 2000, the four Cluster satellites had reached their final tetrahedral constellation. The commissioning of 44 instruments, both individually and as an ensemble of complementary tools, was completed five months later to ensure the optimal use of their combined observational potential. On 1 February 2001, the mission was declared operational.
The main goal of the Cluster mission is to study the small-scale plasma structures in three dimensions in key plasma regions, such as the solar wind, bow shock, magnetopause, polar cusps, magnetotail and the auroral zones. With its unique capabilities of three-dimensional spatial resolution, Cluster plays a major role in the International Solar Terrestrial Program (ISTP), where Cluster and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) are the European contributions. Cluster’s payload consists of state-of-the-art plasma instrumentation to measure electric and magnetic fields from the quasi-static up to high frequencies, and electron and ion distribution functions from energies of nearly 0 eV to a few MeV. The science operations are coordinated by the Joint Science Operations Centre (JSOC), at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (UK), and implemented by the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany. A network of eight national data centres has been set up for raw data processing, for the production of physical parameters, and their distribution to end users all over the world. The latest information on the Cluster mission can be found at http://sci.esa.int/cluster/.