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N° 37–2013: GOCE gives in to gravity

11 November 2013

Close to 01:00 CET on Monday 11 November, ESA’s GOCE satellite reentered Earth’s atmosphere on a descending orbit pass that extended across Siberia, the western Pacific Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean and Antarctica. As expected, the satellite disintegrated in the high atmosphere and no damage to property has been reported.

Launched in March 2009, the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer – GOCE – has mapped variations in Earth’s gravity with unrivalled precision. The result is the most accurate shape of the ‘geoid’ – a hypothetical global ocean at rest – ever produced, which is being used to understand ocean circulation, sea level, ice dynamics and Earth’s interior.

GOCE’s innovative ion engine, responsible for keeping the satellite at an incredibly low orbit of under 260 km, together with its accelerometer measurements have also provided new insight into air density and wind speeds in the upper atmosphere.

On 21 October, the mission came to a natural end when it ran out of fuel. Over the past three weeks the satellite gradually descended.

While most of the 1100 kg satellite disintegrated in the atmosphere, an estimated 25% reached Earth’s surface.

An international campaign involving the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee and ESA’s Space Debris Office monitored the reentry.

“The one-tonne GOCE satellite is only a small fraction of the 100–150 tonnes of man-made space objects that reenter Earth’s atmosphere annually,” said Heiner Klinkrad, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office.

“In the 56 years of spaceflight, some 15 000 tonnes of man-made space objects have reentered the atmosphere without causing a single human injury to date.”

For an overview of the satellite’s final days and recent scientific discoveries, visit the dedicated webpage at: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/GOCE/GOCE_completes_its_mission

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. It is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 20 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of whom 18 are Member States of the EU.

ESA has Cooperation Agreements with eight other Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

ESA is also working with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.

Learn more at www.esa.int

For further information:

ESA Media Relations Office
Email: media@esa.int
Tel: +33 1 53 69 72 99



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