THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY (ESA) has added two satellites to the collection of orbiting space debris, one to help monitor climate change and another to test a range of the latest technologies.
The SMOS and Proba-2 satellites were launched early this morning from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northern Russia atop a Rockot launch vehicle.
Some 70 minutes after launch, The 658kg SMOS successfully separated from the Rockot's Breeze-KM upper stage to take up a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of around 760km. SMOS boasts a Microwave Imaging Radiometer using Aperture Synthesis that will help it map sea surface salinity as well as monitor soil moisture on a global scale through the passive surveying of the water cycle between the oceans, atmosphere and land.
"The data collected by SMOS will complement measurements already performed on the ground and at sea to monitor water exchanges on a global scale," said Volker Liebig, director of Earth Observation Programmes at ESA.
"Since these exchanges - most of which occur in remote areas - directly affect the weather, they are of paramount importance to meteorologists."
A few hours later the much smaller 135kg Proba-2 was released to take up its orbit at a lower altitude of 725km. This one will act as a test-bed for 17 of the most advanced satellite technologies, including miniaturised sensors for ESA's future space probes, a high-precision magnetometer, a dual frequency GPS space receiver, a xenon-fed resistojet thruster and a highly sophisticated CCD camera with a wide angle view of about 120 degrees.
It also carries a set of four science instruments to observe the Sun and study the plasma environment from orbit.
"We are extremely pleased with this double 'lucky strike' that will provide Europe with new tools to better understand our planet and climate change, as well as new technology breakthroughs that will enhance the competitiveness of European industry on the world-wide market, thus contributing to the global economy," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the ESA.
The Proteus mission control centre operated by the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in Toulouse, France, is in control of SMOS on behalf of ESA, while the Proba control centre, at ESA's tracking station in Redu, Belgium, has taken over Proba-2. µ
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