France: After mapping variations in earth’s gravity with unprecedented detail for four years, the GOCE satellite has run out of fuel and the end of mission has been declared. Since March 2009, the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer – GOCE – has been orbiting Earth at the lowest altitude of any research satellite.
Its ‘gradiometer’ – the sensitive instrument measuring gravity in 3D – was the first in space and has mapped variations in Earth’s gravity with unrivalled precision. The result is a unique model of the ‘geoid’, which is essentially the shape of an ideal global ocean at rest and therefore critical for accurate measurements of ocean circulation and sea-level change.
GOCE has provided dynamic topography and circulation patterns of the oceans with unprecedented quality and resolution, improving our understanding of the dynamics of world oceans.
On 21 October, the mission came to a natural end when it ran out of fuel. The satellite is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere in about two weeks.