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Based on a large number of measurements of the magnetic field and energetic particles onboard the CRRES satellite and on ground-based measurements we describe the fine structure of the first several minutes of the expansion activation of a substorm. The main result is that we have found a fast enhancement of the flux of energetic ions immediately before the beginning of substorm dipolization of the magnetic field. This effect was not known earlier, and the enhancement is invisible from the ground during auroras. We suggest that the appearance of an excess flux of energetic ions has a triggering effect on the local expansion activation of a substorm. The model of a current meander is put forward, which explains the generation of an inductance electric field, current wedge, and other effects of the explosive onset of a substorm.