Chinese Science Satellite Ends Mission in Fiery Plunge
A Chinese satellite plunged into the Earth's atmosphere and destroyed itself this week to end an extended mission studying the planet's magnetic field.
The science satellite, dubbed TC-1, was officially decommissioned Sunday after lasting three years beyond its planned one-year mission lifetime. The spacecraft burned up as it reentered the Earth's atmosphere, according to a mission update.
TC-1, and its counterpart TC-2, were the first satellites built and operated by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Together they made up Double Star, China's first scientific mission, which used the two spacecraft surveying Earth?s magnetic environment and the response to solar disturbances.
Working together with the ESA?s four Cluster satellites, Double Star discovered thousands of bubbles of superheated gas where the solar wind strikes the Earth?s magnetic field. The satellites also unexpectedly plowed through waves of electrical and magnetic energy in the Earth?s night-time shadow the tail of planet's magnetic cloak as it oscillates in the same manner of the wake behind a boat. That data clued scientists into the effects of space weather on Earth?s magnetic field.
"Double Star has demonstrated mutual benefit and fostered scientific cooperation in space research between China and Europe. But there is still much more to come as the full, high-resolution data archive becomes available," said Philippe Escoubet, project scientist for the ESA?s Cluster and Double Star.
The satellites also found that chorus emissions waves naturally generated in space close to Earth?s magnetic equator are created further away from the planet during periods of high geomagnetic activity. Such electromagnetic activity can create what ESA researchers termed ?killer electrons,? which can damage sensitive electronic equipment on spacecraft and pose a threat to astronauts. The information gathered by Double Star allows for better forecasting of these events.
While Double Star represented the first joint Chinese-European space mission, China has been launching satellites since 1970 and launched its first two manned spaceflights in 2003 and 2005, respectively.
The country plans to launch its first lunar orbiter, Chang'e 1, in late October according to state media reports.
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