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September launch for ESA's gravity mission GOCE
Date:5/27/2008

- subjecting the satellite to 1400 W of power over each square metre of the side of the satellite that faces the Sun.

As well as being designed to fly in an orbit as low as is technically feasible to retrieve the strongest possible gravity signal, the sleek arrow-shaped satellite is ultra-stable to ensure that measurements taken are of true gravity and not influenced by any movement of the satellite. GOCE, therefore, has none of the moving parts often seen on other spacecraft. Since GOCE is designed to orbit the Earth with one side always facing the Sun, one side only is equipped with solar panels.

Due to its low altitude and inclination, once a year the GOCE satellite will experience an eclipse period of 135 days with one eclipse of up to 28 minutes per orbit. A peculiarity of orbital dynamics is that one is free to choose the eclipse period to fall either between October and February or, between April and August by launching either in the morning or in the evening of the launch day.

Now launching in September, it is best to have the eclipses in the April to August time frame. The May launch would still have gone for the eclipse season in winter. The difference in the two configurations is that, as seen from the Sun, the satellite either flies clock- or anti-clockwise around the Earth. This has impact on the satellite configuration and some units have to be moved from one side of the satellite to the other. Thanks to the flexibility of the satellite design, this is a relatively simple operation. Therefore, modifications to accommodate this new flight configuration are about to be carried out at ESA in the Netherlands. When GOCE has been reconfigured, the spacecraft will be transported by aircraft from the Netherlands to Arkhangelsk in Russia, and from there by train to the launch site in Plesetsk for final testing.

Once launched, GOCE will begin to map global variations in the gravity field with unprecedented detail and accura
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Contact: Danilo Muzi
danilo.muzi@esa.int
31-715-654-932
European Space Agency
Source:Eurekalert

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