Gravity satellite successfully in orbit
17 March 2009
The launch of a gravity-mapping satellite, GOCE, has been heralded a success - an hour and a half after lift-off.
Artist's impression of GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Explorer) satellite. GOCE is the first Core Earth Explorer satellite to be developed as part of ESA's Living Planet Programme.
GOCE left the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in north-west Russia at 14:21 GMT. The satellite separated from the modified intercontinental ballistic missile carrying it whilst out of radio contact as it circled the Earth. An hour and a half later the European Space Agency's (ESA) control room in Frascati, Italy regained contact with GOCE, confirming the launch's success.
The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer will map tiny variations in the Earth's gravity field with unprecedented accuracy. This will give scientists vital information about ocean circulation and sea level change and improve our understanding of how heat is transported around the oceans. This information will help make global climate models more accurate.
The satellite will also provide scientists with the data they need to understand more about the internal structure of our planet and may give them clues about earthquakes and volcanoes.
The launch of the GOCE satellite was delayed 24 hours after the service tower surrounding the launch vehicle didn't move clear to allow for a lift-off. The successful launch is a huge relief to everyone involved in the mission. Getting GOCE into orbit hasn't been easy. There have been delays before - first in the spring of 2008 and the second in September 2008.
The satellite is already in a polar sun-synchronous orbit, but it'll be another six weeks before it settles in its final cruising altitude - just 160 miles above Earth's surface at the edge of the Earth's atmosphere. One of the scientists eagerly awaiting data from GOCE, Professor Chris Hughes, an expert in ocean circulation at the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory said, 'We're delighted the satellite has successfully made it into orbit, now the really exciting challenges begin.'
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