Ariane 42P rocket

In 1979, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory began planning TOPEX, an Ocean Topography Experiment that would use a satellite altimeter to measure the surface of the world's oceans. At the same time the French space agency CNES was designing an oceanographic mission called Poseidon, named for the Greek god of the sea.

The two space agencies decided on a cooperative effort and pooled their resources to form a single mission. The result is the highly-successful TOPEX/Poseidon which has achieved science objectives beyond expectation and at a lower cost than either mission would have achieved separately.

The Ariane 42P T/P launch vehicle carrying the TOPEX/Poseidon spacecraft was launched from the European Space Agency's Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on August 10, 1992.

  • After 27 seconds of flight, the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) strapped to the Ariane separated and fell away from the rocket.
  • About three minutes later, the fuel in the first stage was exhausted, and the stage was jettisoned.
  • The second stage was ignited, and 30 seconds later the satellite's cover was jettisoned. After 95 seconds, the third stage took over for the final leg of the flight.
  • Once in orbit, the third stage performed several orientation maneuvers. Then the explosive bolts mounting the spacecraft to the rocket were fired, and the third stage backed away. This separation marked the end of the launch phase of the mission.

TOPEX/Poseidon Movies/Animations

Watch the TOPEX/Poseidon Launch
QuickTime (8.7 MB)

QuickTime VR of TOPEX/Poseidon Spacecraft
QTVR (9.8 MB)