March 18, 2009

The ESA launches its first GOCE satellite

The European Space Agency has placed its first GOCE satellite into orbit, beginning what the ESA calls a new chapter in the history of Earth observation.

The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer satellite was lifted into a near-sun-synchronous, low Earth orbit Tuesday by a Rockot launcher from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia.

GOCE is the first of a new family of ESA satellites designed to study our planet and its environment in order to enhance our knowledge and understanding of Earth-system processes and their evolution, to enable us to address the challenges of global climate change, ESA said. In particular, GOCE will measure the minute differences in the Earth's gravity field around the globe.

GOCE -- the ESA's first science satellite dedicated to Earth observation since Envisat was launched in 2002 -- will spend two years collecting three-dimensional gravity data all over the globe. The space agency said the raw data will be processed on the ground to produce the most accurate map of the Earth's gravitational field to date and to refine the geoid -- the actual reference shape of our planet.