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Satellite completes gravity map of Earth

Paris, France: European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite has reached its goal of mapping Earth’s gravity with precision at par with the expectation. In two short years, the satellite has collected the measurements needed to record the ‘geoid’ reference shape of our planet.
“GOCE is one of ESA’s most innovative missions. The satellite has recorded the measurements necessary to enable us to produce a high-resolution map of the ‘geoid’ that is far more accurate and has a much higher spatial resolution then any other dataset of this kind,” said Volker Liebig, Director of ESA’s Earth observation programmes.

The geoid is the shape of an imaginary global ocean dictated by gravity in the absence of tides and currents. It is a crucial reference for accurately measuring ocean circulation, sea-level change and ice dynamics – all affected by climate change. In the coming weeks, these data will be calibrated and processed for scientists to create a unique model of the geoid.

Although GOCE has completed its planned mission, the low solar activity during the last two years led to a lower fuel consumption than anticipated. Based on this fuel saving, the good health of the satellite and the excellent quality of its data, ESA decided in November 2010 to extend the mission until the end of 2012. “By nearly doubling the mission’s lifetime, GOCE data will provide an even better gravity field map and geoid products,” said GOCE Mission Manager Rune Floberghagen.

“Once the gravity models are completed, they will be made available to all users, free of charge in line with ESA’s data policy.”

Source: ESA