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Flying in formation: Engineers have pushed the four orbiting Cluster satellites into their closest configuration yet.
In an orbital reconfiguration that will help to maintain the mission’s life span, two of the four satellites achieved their closest-ever separation on 19 September, closing to within just 4 km of each other as they orbited at up to 23 000 km/h high above Earth. “We’re optimising the Cluster formation so that the separation between Cluster 1 and the duo of Cluster 3 and 4 – which are on almost identical orbits – is kept below 100 km when the formation crosses Earth’s magnetic equator,” says Detlef Sieg, working on Cluster flight dynamics at ESA’s ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
This close formation will provide scientists better data, as they are finding that the Earth’s magnetosphere is far more complex than expected.