GOCE launch: Mapping the Earth’s gravity as never before

Mar 09, 2009
The sleek aerodynamic design of GOCE (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer) immediately sets it apart from most other satellites. This unique five-metre long spacecraft has none of the usual moving parts. The satellite together with its sensor, system of supporting instrumentation and control elements actually form a single composite gravity-measuring device. Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA is about to launch the most sophisticated of Earth Observation satellites to investigate the Earth’s gravitational field with unprecedented resolution and accuracy.

GOCE data will be crucial for obtaining accurate measurements of and sea-level change, both of which are affected by climate change. The data will help to better understand processes occurring inside the Earth which are linked to volcanoes and earthquakes.

The 'Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer' () will be placed in a low altitude orbit by a Russian Rockot vehicle. Launch is scheduled to take place at 15:21 CET (14:21 GMT, 17:21 local time) on Monday, 16 March 2009, from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northern Russia, some 800 km north of Moscow. Rockot is operated by Eurockot Launch Services, a joint venture between EADS Astrium and the Khrunichev Space Centre (Russia).

ESA’s 1-tonne spacecraft carries a highly sensitive to measure the variations of the in three dimensions. The data collected will provide a high-resolution map of the 'geoid' (the reference surface of the planet) and of . Such a map will not only greatly improve our knowledge and understanding of the Earth’s internal structure, but will also be used to provide much better reference data for ocean and climate studies and ocean circulation. Practical mission applications will also include construction, planning & surveying as well as providing reference data on sea levels.

To make this mission possible, ESA, together with a consortium of 45 European companies led by Thales Alenia Space and the science community had to overcome some impressive technical challenges. The spacecraft had to be designed to orbit the Earth at close enough quarters to gather high-accuracy gravitational data while being able to filter out disturbances caused by the remaining traces of the atmosphere in low Earth orbit (at an altitude of only 260 km). This resulted in a slender 5-m long arrowhead shape for aerodynamics with low power ion thrusters to compensate for atmospheric drag.

GOCE is the first of a series of Earth Explorer satellites to be placed in orbit. The Earth Explorer missions have been designed by ESA to promote research on the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and interior.

Two other Earth Explorer missions are also scheduled for launch in 2009: SMOS (summer) to study soil moisture and ocean salinity and CryoSat-2 (late autumn) to measure ice sheet thickness.

Additional Earth Explorer missions have been designed to address specific topics: Swarm to survey the evolution of the magnetic field (launch scheduled for 2010). ADM-Aeolus for atmospheric dynamics (2011), and EarthCARE to investigate the Earth’s radiative balance (2013).

More information: You can also follow a web-streamed video transmission at: www.esa.int/goce

Provided by ESA

Explore further: Video gives astronaut's-eye view inside NASA's Orion spacecraft

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

March launch planned for GOCE gravity mission (Video)

Feb 04, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA is now gearing up to return to Russia to oversee preparations for the launch of its GOCE satellite - now envisaged for launch on 16 March 2009. This follows implementation of the corrective ...

Last-ever look at ESA's gravity satellite GOCE

Sep 04, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- As preparations for the launch of GOCE on 10 September continue on schedule, an important milestone has just been achieved as engineers at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia say farewell ...

ESA's Earth Explorer gravity satellite on show

Jul 19, 2007

GOCE, ESA’s first satellite dedicated to measuring the Earth’s gravity field, has been presented to the press today in Turin, Italy, before being shipped to ESTEC – the space agency’s research and ...

SMOS water mission on track for launch

Feb 12, 2009

Following word from Eurockot that launch of the Earth Explorer SMOS satellite can take place between July and October this year, ESA, CNES and the prime contractor Thales Alenia Space are now making detailed preparations ...

GOCE prepares for shipment to Russia

Jul 24, 2008

Launching in just two months' time, GOCE – now fully reconfigured for launch in September, is currently being prepared for shipment on 29 July 2008 from ESA's test facilities in the Netherlands to the Plesetsk ...

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.