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GOCE Moves To Launch Pad

March 11, 2009

With liftoff just five days away, ESA’s GOCE spacecraft ““ encased in the protective two half shells of the launcher fairing ““ has been transported from the clean room and installed in the launch tower at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

The so-called Upper Composite, which comprises the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Explorer (GOCE) satellite joined to the KM-Breeze Upper Stage of the Rockot launcher and sealed within the fairing, was protected by a thermal cover and transported by rail from the clean room to the launch pad 5 km away. The weather conditions in Plesetsk are very cold at the moment ““ the ground covered in snow and temperatures well below freezing. However, these conditions don’t hamper operations.

The next step was to hoist the Upper Composite to the seventh floor of the service tower where it has been joined to the rest of the Rockot launcher. Operations will continue over the next days in readiness for launch on Monday 16 March at 15:21 CET (14:21 GMT, 17:21 local time).

GOCE has been undergoing preparations for launch since it was taken out of storage around three weeks ago. These ‘launch campaign’ activities included a series of mechanical and electrical tests, mating to the Upper Stage and finally encapsulation in the launcher fairing.

GOCE is ESA’s first Earth Explorer mission and once launched will map global variations in the gravity field with extreme detail and accuracy. This will result in a unique model of the geoid, which is the surface of equal gravitational potential defined by the gravity field

This data is crucial for deriving accurate measurements of ocean circulation and sea-level change, both of which are affected by climate change. GOCE-derived data is also much needed to understand more about processes occurring inside the Earth and for use in practical applications such as surveying and leveling.

Image Caption: The tower supporting the launcher that will carry GOCE into orbit on Monday 16 March 2009. The picture, taken on 11 March, shows the wintry conditions at the launch site. Credits: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2009 [ More Images ]

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