GOCE ready for launch

Artist's impression of GOCE launch

16 March 2009

The Russian State Commission has given the go-ahead for GOCE to be launched today at 15:21 CET from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

GOCE will map Earth’s gravity field with unprecedented accuracy, providing insight into ocean circulation, sea-level change, climate change, volcanism and earthquakes.

"The satellite is ready, the team is in good spirits and ESA is ready for the launch," GOCE Project Manager Danilo Muzi said from the cosmodrome.

Today’s go-ahead follows a successful countdown rehearsal conducted by ESA’s Mission Control Team, the Russian Mission Control Centre and the international tracking station network on Friday, 13 March. The day-long exercise simulated events from countdown until some 90 minutes after liftoff, when GOCE’s first signals are expected to be received by ESA’s Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.

Speaking from ESOC, GOCE Spacecraft Operations Manager Juan Piñeiro said: "The rehearsal on Friday went very well. There were no unexpected problems and team motivation is very high. We are ready to go."

Launch tower
GOCE in the launch tower

The next step was to hoist the Upper Composite to the seventh floor of the service tower where it has been joined to the rest of the Rockot launcher. Operations will continue over the coming days in readiness for launch on Monday 16 March at 15:21 CET (14:21 GMT, 17:21 local time).

GOCE has been undergoing preparations for launch since it was taken out of storage around three weeks ago. These launch campaign activities included a series of mechanical and electrical tests, mating to the Upper Stage and finally encapsulation in the launcher fairing.

On Saturday, the launch team at Plesetsk carried out a final series of checks on all electrical, mechanical and thermal connections. With no reported problems, at 17:30 CET the State Commission began its formal review in which representatives of the various organisations involved were asked to report on the status of their activities.

GOCE rehearsal countdown
D. Muzi (R) and A. Allasio in ESA project room at Plesetsk, 13 March 2009

This involved Eurockot and Khrunichev reporting on the launcher, ESA on the GOCE satellite, the Russian Space Forces on the fuelling operations, the weather forecast and the Ground Stations. Following authorisation from the Commission, final fuelling operations began yesterday at 07:32 CET and were successfully completed at 17: 00 CET.

Last night’s forecast for the launch site was good, with temperatures between 0C and -5C and winds at ground and higher altitudes well within launch limits.

As GOCE Project Manager, Muzi will have to confirm to the Russian launch authorities whether ESA’s satellite and ground segment are ready.

"Forty minutes before launch, we will confirm that satellite telemetry is as expected and check with the Flight Director at ESOC that the ground segment is ready," Muzi said. "Then, I will flip three 'Red/Green' switches over to 'Green' - that's the final step on the ESA side."

Animation simulating the Rockot fairing opening three minutes after launch

The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite will be launched into a Sun-synchronous, near-circular polar orbit by a Russian Rockot vehicle – a converted SS-19 ballistic missile.

GOCE demonstrates Europe’s excellence in both engineering and science. Forty-five companies distributed over 13 European countries worked with ESA on the satellite’s unique design.

GOCE is the first of a new family of ESA satellites, called Earth Explorers, designed to study our planet and its environment in order to improve our knowledge and understanding of Earth-system processes and their evolution, to enable us to address the challenges of global climate change.

Continuous updates leading up to launch will be available here. The launch will be streamed live and can be viewed on the GOCE minisite.

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