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Space

Successful launch of the Corot scientific satellite

27 December 2006

The Corot scientific satellite was successfully launched today by a Soyuz 2-1b rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. French space agency CNES was the prime contractor for this satellite, assigning industrial responsibility to Alcatel Alenia Space. The Corot satellite is designed to study the structure of stars and also search for new planets outside our solar system.

The Corot mission is a world first. Lasting about three years, its main aim is to study the internal structure of stars. It will use a method known as asteroseismology (observation of oscillation modes, which indirectly sounds the interior of stars) to determine their mass, age and composition. This is a key to better understanding our universe, since it is in stars, at different phases of their life, that the chemical elements making up the universe are formed.

The second objective of the mission is to detect planets outside our solar system, by measuring changes in the observed visual brightness. Scientists believe that they will be able to discover from ten to forty medium-size "telluric"* planets, similar to those in our solar system, and several hundred, or even thousands of giant planets.

The Corot satellite will be placed in polar orbit at an altitude of about 900 kilometers. It will have an inertial altitude, with the line-of-sight maintaining the same direction over an observation period of five months. The complete mission will comprise at least six observation periods for a total of three years.

Alcatel Alenia Space is supplying the Corotel afocal telescope for this mission, drawing on experience built up in the Helios observation program, especially to meet the demanding telescope stability requirements. This is the first spaceborne instrument to offer such a high degree of radiometric accuracy, with sensitivity to 10-6. Corotel also offers extensive protection against stray light (from the Sun or Earth), which should enable it to detect, for the first time, Earth-size planets around other stars. In addition, by making very fine measurements of changes in the stars' luminosity, it will provide invaluable information on their cores.

"We are very proud of this successful launch, because we know how eagerly scientists are awaiting this ambitious space astronomy mission," said Patrick Mauté, head of optical observation and science activities at Alcatel Alenia Space. "To ensure its success we drew on the full range of our expertise in optical engineering and state-of-the-art technologies."

Corot is the third scientific satellite to use the Proteus platform, developed by Alcatel Alenia Space in conjunction with CNES, following Jason-1 and Calipso.

* A telluric planet, also know as a terrestrial or rocky planet, is a planet primarily composed of silicate rocks, as opposed to gases, where life could conceivably develop.

About Alcatel Alenia Space
Alcatel Alenia Space is the European leader in satellite systems, at the forefront of orbit infrastructures. Created in July 2005, the company brings together the vast experience and know-how of Alcatel Space and Alenia Spazio to form a new leading force in European space technology. Alcatel Alenia Space represents a worldwide standard for space development that impacts everybody's future: from navigation to telecommunications, from meteorology to environmental monitoring, from defense to science and observation.



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