ESA’s GOCE gravity satellite: Lower orbit for better results

The GOCE mission has delivered the most accurate model of the 'geoid' ever produced.
Credits: ESA/HPF/DLR

ESA’s GOCE gravity satellite has already delivered the most accurate gravity map of Earth, but its orbit is now being lowered in order to obtain even better results. The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) has been orbiting Earth since March 2009, reaching its ambitious objective to map our planet’s gravity with unrivalled precision.

The control team began the manoeuvres in August, lowering GOCE by about 300 m per day. After coming down by 8.6 km, the satellite’s performance and new environment were assessed. Now, GOCE is again being lowered while continuing its gravity mapping. Finally, it is expected to reach 235 km in February.

The first ‘geoid’ based on GOCE’s gravity measurements was unveiled in June 2010. It is the surface of an ideal global ocean in the absence of tides and currents, shaped only by gravity. A geoid is a crucial reference for conducting precise measurements of ocean circulation, sea-level change and ice dynamics. In addition, a better understanding of variations in the gravity field will lead to a deeper understanding of Earth's interior, such as the physics and dynamics associated with volcanic activity and earthquakes.