“Yes!” For YES2 Mission


The second Young Engineers Satellite (YES2), involving nearly 500 university students from Australia, Japan, Europe and North America, launched on 14 September 2007 and came down safely in Kazakhstan on the 26th. The ESA’s Education Office is calling the mission a success:

The reentry capsule for the Foton-M3 spacecraft, which has been in low-Earth orbit for the last 12 days, successfully landed this morning in an uninhabited area 150 km south of the town of Kustanay in Kazakhstan, close to the Russian border, at 09:58 CEST, 13:58 local time.
The unmanned Foton spacecraft, which was launched on 14 September from Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, carried a payload of 43 European experiments in a range of scientific disciplines – including fluid physics, biology, crystal growth, radiation exposure and exobiology.

The mission was intensively monitored throughout by 65 engineers and scientists located at ground stations at Esrange, in Kiruna, Sweden, and at the Russian flight control centre, TsUP, in Moscow, Russia. Thanks to a close cooperation with the Canadian Space Agency, ground stations in St. Hubert and Saskatoon were also used to receive data from the spacecraft. 
“I am extremely pleased with the success of the Foton-M3 mission,” says Josef Winter, Head of ESA’s Payload and Microgravity Platform Division. “All operations during the mission were flawless. The hard work and dedication of all involved has contributed to make this mission a success. I would like to congratulate our Russian counterparts and thank them for their outstanding cooperation.”

Helicopters were immediately at the landing site to start recovery operations, including the retrieval of experiment hardware. The European experiments will now be returned to the labs at ESA’s research and technology centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, tomorrow evening. After further inspection at ESTEC the experiments will be returned to the scientific institutions where the data will be analysed over the coming months.
Only in-depth analysis will reveal the full extent of the scientific return of the mission, although data received during the flight already shows promising results – the Italian and US team responsible for the GRADFLEX (GRADient-Driven Fluctuation EXperiment) experiment received preliminary confirmation of a 10-year-old fluid science theory.

A further highlight of the mission was yesterday’s deployment of a small reentry capsule from the outside of the Foton spacecraft. The Second Young Engineers’ Satellite (YES2) experiment saw the release of the beachball-sized Fotino capsule from the end of a tether to demonstrate the smart possibility of returning small payloads to Earth.

"I am extremely satisfied that we could fly a very high number of experiments during the Foton-M3 mission and that they all worked out well. Some of them will even be further elaborated onboard the International Space Station," says Martin Zell, ESA’s Head of Research Operations for the Directorate of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration.

 The experiment was some coverage in the almost-science press this week. Wired, for example:

The students’ critical moment came today, and so far it’s a qualified success. The payload, a small capsule dubbed “Fotino” was intended to be let out on a 18.6 mile, fishing line-thin tether before being released. But the process went more slowly than projected, and the little test capsule was cut loose by a preprogrammed command after just 5.2 miles.

European Space Agency scientists are currently tracking the little device to figure out where and how its parachute will bring it back to earth.

The mishaps may mean that the students’ tether system won’t find its way immediately into adoption for critical satellite or other launches. But the test gives space programs around the world new data on an innovative and potentially money-saving technique for orbital deployments.

They’re right about how cool this mission was. Here’s their animation:


Still no word on whether the prog-rock group Yes is comtemplating a copyright infringement complaint.