Cluster aims to give scientists an insight into the physical mechanisms that produce space weather, phenomena that are associated with the interaction between the Sun and our planet.
The mission consists of four identical spacecraft orbiting the Earth in a pyramidal formation. This has been the first ever attempt to operate multiple spacecraft in such a way and it has been a challenge in itself.
Matt Taylor, Cluster Project Scientist and member of the scientific committee says that this meeting comes at a critical time for the field of space weather physics. “Our Sun has experienced an unusually prolonged inactivity that is puzzling the scientific community. This week we have been discussing about this a lot and are looking into how to probe the issue,” he explains.
In addition he points out that “the European Space Agency is currently calling scientists to submit proposals for funding the next generation of space missions through the Cosmic Vision programme 2015-2025, so this meeting provides the platform for discussing future directions and presenting proposals for new missions.”
Although Cluster has been one of Europe’s longest missions, the scientists expect it to operate for four more years. “We really need Cluster to fly until 2014 to observe the next solar maximum, so that we are able to understand if and how the Sun’s behaviour is changing,” says Dr Taylor.
The meeting does not only celebrate Cluster, but highlights the contribution of two other missions as well. The Chinese two-spacecraft Double Star as well as the THEMIS missions, both built on the experience gained from Cluster’s highly challenging operations.
The gathering has produced fruitful discussions between the scientists facilitated by the great surroundings of Corfu.
More information about the mission and its achievements can be found at the Cluster Home Page provided by Imperial College London.