ESA prepares to launch GOCE satellite

European Space Agency's Gravity Ocean Circulation Explorer to measure Earth’s gravitational field, ocean currents

The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing for a March 16 launch of the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE).

GOCE will orbit for 20 months mapping the gravitational field by employing six accelerometers. The three pairs of accelerometers are arrayed in three dimensions and respond to variations in the gravitational pull of the Earth.

While it may seem that gravity is a constant on Earth, the fact is the pull of gravity varies measurably in different locations. That is due to several factors, including the rotation of the Earth combined with variations in the planet’s surface, such as mountain ranges and ocean trenches, as well as variations in the density of the planet’s interior. T

hese variations in gravitational pull in turn affect the measurements of ocean circulation and other processes affecting climate change. They may also affect the accuracy of land surveys.

The system is so sensitive that the satellite can have no moving parts that would affect the measurements of the accelerometers.

GOCE is the first in a planned series of Earth observation satellite launches by the ESA.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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