European science satellite hit by glitch

Aug 23, 2010
An artist's impression of the Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite which has been hit by a software glitch and is unable to send its science data back home.

A satellite designed to map Earth's gravitational field has been hit by a software glitch and is unable to send its science data back home, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Monday.

The problem began to affect the spacecraft GOCE in late July, Mark Drinkwater, head of mission science at ESA's technical division, the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), told AFP.

"The satellite's not transmitting its scientific data because of this anomaly," Drinkwater said from Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

Technicians were working on a patch and hope to install it by radio link next month, he said.

"All the other onboard systems are otherwise fine. We are not constrained by fuel or by time, and we have got excellent data in the bank already," Drinkwater said.

The satellite has already completed two-thirds of its mission and many science objectives have already been met, he said.

GOCE -- for and steady-state Explorer -- was launched on March 17, 2009.

Its aim is to monitor tiny variations in Earth's gravity caused by ocean trenches, mountains and differences in density in the planet's interior.

Understanding these variations will have benefits in oceanography, especially in modelling complex and predicting how sea will rise in response to global warming, ESA says.

The agency describes GOCE as "the Formula 1" of satellites because of its avant-garde design.

Whereas most satellites are essentially boxes, the five-metre (16.25-feet) craft is arrow-like and has stabilising fins because it orbits Earth at an altitude of just 250 kilometres (156 miles) where there is still a lingering atmosphere.

GOCE ran into a first problem in February this year when a chip failed in its primary computer. Ground engineers switched the satellite over to its backup computer.

The new problem is different from the first, being a in a module that deals with telemetry processing.

One approach is to stitch together the two computers' working parts so that the mission can recover, said Drinkwater.

GOCE is on ESA's roster of "Earth Explorer" projects to further fundamental understanding about the Earth.

Investigations into ice cover, soil moisture, ocean salinity, cloud cover, vertical winds and the planet's magnetic field are either planned or in operation.

Explore further: Beastly sunspot amazes, heightens eclipse excitement

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 ...

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 ...

Launch of European gravity probe delayed

Mar 16, 2009

The launch of a pioneering European satellite designed to map Earth's gravity field was delayed due to technical problems and will take place Tuesday, Russia's Khrunichev Space Centre said.

Recommended for you

Beastly sunspot amazes, heightens eclipse excitement

1 hour ago

That's one big, black blemish on the Sun today! Rarely have we been witness to such an enormous sunspot. Lifting the #14 welder's glass to my eyes this morning I about jumped back and bumped into the garage.

The formation and development of desert dunes on Titan

2 hours ago

Combining climate models and observations of the surface of Titan from the Cassini probe, a team from the AIM Astrophysics Laboratory (CNRS / CEA / Paris Diderot University) , in collaboration with researchers ...

'Eau de comet' is a bit of a stinker

2 hours ago

Rotten eggs, horse pee, alcohol and bitter almonds: this is the bouquet of odours you would smell if a comet in deep space could be brought back to Earth, European scientists said on Thursday.

User comments : 0