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ESA to select new Earth Explorer missions

An important milestone for European Space Agency’s Living Planet Programme is to be reached this spring when it will be decided which of the six candidate Earth Explorer missions are to be selected for development. Before decisions are taken, the user community is invited to express their views at the Earth Explorer User Consultation Meeting to be held on 19-20 April at ESA’s ESRIN facility in Frascati, Italy.

Following the successful implementation of the ERS satellites and Envisat, which address Earth science issues of a global nature, Earth Explorers are smaller research missions dedicated to specific aspects of our Earth environment. The first four Earth Explorers were selected for development in 1999, the first of which is due for launch at the end of this year. Over the last two years the Agency has been working on the next generation of candidate missions and is currently evaluating the resulting six satellite concepts. Before the Earth Science Advisory Committee provides recommendations to the Agency, the six missions will be reviewed at the Earth Explorer User Consultation Meeting.

The six candidate missions are:

— EarthCARE (Earth, Clouds, Aerosols and Radiation Explorer)
— SPECTRA (Surface Processes and Ecosystem Changes Through Response Analysis)
— WALES (Water vapour and Lidar Experiment in Space)
— ACE+ (Atmosphere and Climate Explorer)
— EGPM (European contribution to the Global Precipitation Monitoring mission)
— SWARM (a constellation of small satellites to study the dynamics of the Earth’s magnetic field)

The first-generation Earth Explorers are all currently under implementation. CryoSat will be launched at the end of 2004 and is dedicated to monitoring precise changes in the thickness of polar ice-sheets and floating sea-ice. It will be followed by the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) scheduled for launch in 2006, which will measure high-accuracy gravity gradients and provide global models of the Earth’s gravity field and of the geoid. In 2007, the Atmospheric Dynamics Mission (ADM-Aeolus) will be launched to make novel advances in global wind profile observations. The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission will also be launched in 2007 and will provide global observations of soil moisture and ocean salinity.

The Earth Explorer User Consultation Meeting is an important milestone in the Living Planet Programme that will pave the way for the continuation of Earth Observation missions from space to advance our understanding of the Earth system.