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Monday, April 27, 2009

European Pride-Goce: up and running

Dear GOCE is up and running. As you will learn from the articles below, this is a truly European project that includes many companies all over the EU (well, without East Europe) and it's cool to see everything working good and without problems.

I put many hope on GOCE, since this gravitational map of Earth might, well, discover interesting things we didn't know. Can't wait for it to become operational. Enjoy!

And I'd like to say that projects like this justify the existence of the EU. Without cooperation on EU scale, no country (but China,Russia or USA) would be able to fund such a mission-and we'll all eventually benefit from it. It's not all about the science, it's also about the people, because in the end, such experiments will bring qualitatively new data about the Earth and this will, of course, lead to new discoveries and finally, to new technologies based on them. And that's the beauty of fundamental science-your money always come back in the form of a shiny and totally useless new gadget-like cell phones, laptops or a brand new flying machine. And that's so exiting!

Earth Explorer mission GOCE launches

March 17th, 2009
This afternoon, the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) was lofted into a near-Sun-synchronous, low Earth orbit by a Rockot launcher lifting off from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia.

With this launch, a new chapter in the history of observation in Europe has begun. is the first of a new family of ESA satellites designed to study our planet and its environment in order to enhance our knowledge and understanding of Earth-system processes and their evolution, to enable us to address the challenges of . In particular, GOCE will measure the minute differences in the Earth's around the globe.

The Russian Rockot launcher, derived from a converted ballistic missile, lifted off at 15:21 CET (14:21 GMT) and flew northward over the Arctic. About 90 minutes later, after one orbital revolution and two Breeze-KM upper-stage burns, the 1052 kg spacecraft was successfully released into a circular polar orbit at 280 km altitude with 96.7º inclination to the Equator. The launch was procured from Eurockot Launch Services, a German/Russian company based in Bremen, Germany.

Contact with GOCE was established via ESA's tracking station in Kiruna, Sweden, shortly after separation. The spacecraft is now under the control of ESA's teams at its European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

GOCE was selected in 1999 as the first Earth Explorer Core Mission under ESA's Living Planet Programme. The satellite was developed by an industrial team led by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy. EADS Astrium Space in Friedrichshafen, Germany, provided the platform. Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France, developed and integrated the main instrument using ultra-precise sensors developed by Onera of France. A total of 45 European firms have contributed to the building of the satellite.

For 24 months, GOCE will collect three-dimensional gravity data all over the globe. The raw data will be processed on the ground to produce the most accurate map of the Earth's gravitational field to date and to refine the geoid: the actual reference shape of our planet.

The main payload instrument is a state-of-the-art Electrostatic Gravity Gradiometer incorporating six highly sensitive accelerometers, mounted in pairs along three perpendicular axes on an ultra-stable carbon-carbon structure. The mission will measure not gravity itself but the tiny differences in gravity between the accelerometer pairs 50 cm apart.

The data collected by GOCE will yield accuracy of 1 to 2 cm in the geoid altitude and 1 mGal for the detection of gravity-field anomalies (mountains, for instance, usually cause local gravitational variations ranging from tens of milligals to approximately one hundred). The spatial resolution will be improved from several hundreds or thousands of kilometres on previous missions to 100 km with GOCE.

The spacecraft also incorporates two low-power xenon ion engines, one primary and one backup, each able to deliver 1 to 20 milli-Newtons of thrust (the force equivalent to our exhaling). These thrusters will be used to make real-time compensation for atmospheric drag, based on the mean acceleration detected by the two accelerometers mounted along the velocity axis.

The spacecraft's structure and design were also optimised to filter out all kinds of disturbance, by using ultra-stable materials to limit thermal cycling effects, without any deployable or moving parts.

Over the coming six weeks, the teams from ESA and its industrial partners will check and commission GOCE. The spacecraft will then be transferred to its operational orbit at 263 km altitude and its payload will undergo a further six weeks of commissioning and calibration. Mission operations are scheduled to start in summer 2009.

The mapping of the Earth's gravity field with such precision will benefit all branches of Earth science.

GOCE is the first Earth Explorer Core Mission under ESA's Living Planet Programme which was initiated in 1999 to foster research on the Earth's atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and interior, their interaction and the impact of human activities on these natural processes. Two more Core Missions, selected to address specific topics of major public concern, are already under development: ADM-Aeolus for atmospheric dynamics (2011), and EarthCARE to investigate the Earth's radiative balance (2013). Three smaller Earth Explorer Opportunity Missions are also under preparation: Cryosat 2 to measure ice-sheet thickness (2009), SMOS to study soil moisture and ocean salinity (2009) and Swarm to survey the evolution of the magnetic field (2011). source

GOCE satellite: Critical operations ongoing

March 19th, 2009
( -- After liftoff 17 March, ESA's GOCE spacecraft is performing very well, having achieved an extremely accurate injection altitude of 283.5 km, just 1.5 km lower than planned. The Mission Control Team is now working round-the-clock shifts to implement a series of critical check-out procedures.

During the three-day LEOP, on-board flight control systems will be thoroughly checked-out and the spacecraft brought step-wise through several modes of operation to achieve a stable, fully functioning status.The spacecraft is currently in Coarse Pointing Mode, the most basic level of functioning, which was entered immediately after separation from the launcher.

Today's work includes preparing the spacecraft to switch to Extended Coarse Pointing Mode (ECPM), which enables a higher level of autonomous flight control; this is scheduled for 20:00 CET this evening.

ECPM also includes orienting the satellite so as to minimise the cross-section exposed to the atmosphere, thus limiting altitude decay. As planned, GOCE is orbiting in free flight and the electric-ion propulsion has not yet been switched on.

Another crucial LEOP step is calibrating the on-board magnetometers, which enable full attitude control to be established; this was done overnight.

Later today, the team will issue commands to switch on the Satellite-to-Satellite Tracking Instrument - a state-of-the-art GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) receiver on board GOCE that has been specially adapted to operate in a low-Earth orbit environment. As well as supporting scientific data analysis, the SSTI will also provide real-time navigation data to the on-board orbit control system. source

A nice BBC site with pretty scheme of what GOCE will do.

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