Philippe was born in the south of France. Although he had a casual interest in stars and planets, it was not until he went to university in Toulouse that he became seriously interested in space exploration. During a course on astrophysics, he spent a few days at the Pic du Midi observatory in the Pyrenees, staring at the wonders of the night sky in sub-zero temperatures. From then on he was hooked!
After a three month spell at the Centre D'Etudes Spatiale des Rayonnements, he went on to complete a degree in space plasma physics. This was followed by a PhD based on data from the Russian-French Aureol 3 satellite.
The next step was a research fellowship at Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, looking at data from the Dynamic Explorer satellite on auroras and charged particles in Earth's magnetic field.
His move to ESTEC in the Netherlands came in 1991. After analysing data from satellites such as the International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-1), he moved to the Cluster project, where he became deputy project scientist.
The day the four Cluster spacecraft were lost during the launch failure of the first Ariane 5 was a traumatic experience. "I was in Paris at a big show in the Louvre", he recalls. "There were more than 1 000 people there watching the Ariane 5 - Cluster launch on a large screen. For a few days after the loss, everyone was very depressed. But the Cluster team came up with the Phoenix idea to put the instruments on one spacecraft. This kept our spirits high".
There followed a long battle to get the revived mission accepted. Eventually ESA member states agreed to build four new Cluster craft. Launch is set for 2000, just right to study the Sun-Earth interaction at the peak of solar activity.
"It's like a never-ending football game", says Philippe. "The Sun is kicking particles like balls, The Earth is the goal and its magnetic field is the goalkeeper, It's always trying to push the balls away, but some get past. When particles score goals they disrupt the Earth. Sometimes the Sun is very quiet, but when it's very active we get a lot of balls coming".
So what's significant about Cluster?
"Cluster will give us the best information yet on how the Sun affects the near-Earth environment," says Philippe. "We will have four viewpoints - like having one camera behind the goal and three others at different angles. It will be the first time this has been done for the Earth's magnetic field. This is very exciting for space plasma scientists".
||PI for ASPOC
Last Update: 07 Feb 2013