Streamlined satellite

Tom Marcinko @ 13-03-2009

goceThe European Space Agency’s satellite GOCE (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer ) has been called the most beautiful satellite to be launched (Monday from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in north-west Russia, if all goes well).

GOCE needs a low orbit to accomplish its mission, which is to map “fantasically small” variations in the Earth’s gravity.

The arrow shape and fins are necessary to keep the spacecraft stable as it flies through the wisps of air still present at an altitude just under 270km. This orbit is much lower than for most Earth observation missions but will be essential if Goce is to sense the very subtle gravity anomalies that exist across the planet.

The satellite will also fine-tune its altitude with an ion engine, which accelerates charged xenon atoms through nozzles at the rear of the craft.

The data will inform a multitude of science disciplines:

  • understanding how the mass of ocean waters circulate, moving heat around the planet, will assist climate prediction
  • a better knowledge of the way mass is distributed inside the Earth will be useful to those who study geo-hazards such as volcanoes and earthquakes
  • and because gravity defines what is meant by “up”, “down” and “level”, the new data can underpin a truly universal system to compare heights the world over

This first of at least six projected  missions is being launched by a modified ICBM. Glad to see one of those things get put to good use.

[Image: NASA]


GOCE lowly, lest ye fall

Tom James @ 20-01-2009

goce-copyEric Drexler writes about the beautiful Gravity and Steady State Ocean Explorer on his blog:

I’m glad to see that someone finally found an excuse to launch a streamlined spacecraft that will cruise above Earth, steadily firing its engines to keep it moving. (Aristotelian physicists take note.) The European Space Agency will soon launch this sleek piece of hardware on a mission of gravity measurement with unprecedented accuracy: The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) will carry accelerometers able to sense accelerations as little as 10–13 of what we tolerate on Earth.

Apparently because GOCE will orbit much lower than usual it needs to be streamlined to cope with the thin upper atmosphere and generate thrust to keep itself aloft.

Anyway it’s a very pretty piece of kit: surely the MacBook Air of spacecraft1.

[via Eric Drexler][image from ESA]

1: In that it’s solid-state and sleek.


Sarko in space

JustinP @ 01-07-2008

French President Nicolas SarkozyWith France assuming the (rotating) presidency of the European Union, the BBC reports on a potential shift in European space policy;

President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s well-known admiration for all things American now extends to space exploration. Speaking to the BBC, a senior official involved in French space policy said that it was time to shake up the European Space Agency and make it more like the US space agency (NASA) by giving it a new, politically-led direction

The official said that Europe was in danger of becoming redundant in global space terms and it needed an agency that followed a clear political agenda.

“The United States, Russia, China and Japan would not do what they do in space without a political motivation; Europe has only had a scientific motivation until now. So what we are saying is, let’s get the same chances as the others.

But while the BBC reads this shift in emphasis as from ‘scientific’ to ‘political’, the Financial Times focused on the small print – interpreting the announcement as a move towards a ‘military angle for space strategy’;

French ambitions range from setting up an EU spy satellite system to joining a manned US mission to Mars.

Paris wants to exploit synergies with existing civilian space projects. For example, Galileo, the €3.4bn ($5.4bn, £2.7bn) rival to the UScontrolled global positioning system, is classed as a transport project, although it could be used for military operations.

Hmm. The European Space Agency’s most recent press release on Gallileo mentions nothing of military applications, focusing instead on the five civilian services;

the Open Service, the Safety of Life Service, the Commercial Service, the Public Regulated Service, and the Search and Rescue Service.

Now, why does this make me uneasy?*

[image by thewritingzone]

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[ * Only kidding – I’m a total Galileo fanboy. Of course, if Sarkozy were a Doctor Who / Bond villain, Bruce Sterling’s obsession with said Gallic premier could be explained as the result of some kind of sinister mind control laser… ]


Jules Verne – the first cargo ship in space

Tomas Martin @ 06-03-2008

The ATV Jules Verne will be the first unmanned European spacecraftThis Saturday marks the launch of the biggest vessel in European space history – the Automated Transport Vehicle (ATV), Jules Verne. Named for the classic SF writer, the 21-ton spacecraft is the first unmanned ship launched by Europe to transport goods through space. Russia has some unmanned vehicles, the Progress spaceships. The US Space Shuttle and Russian Soyuz craft also visit the International Space Station but Jules Verne is the first new type of craft in 9 years.

“The ATV, as a logistics vehicle, carries almost three times the hardware, fuel, water and oxygen that a Russian Progress carries,” said NASA’s ISS program manager Mike Suffredini. “It is a major contribution to the program.”

The Jules Verne will travel for a week catching up with the International Space Station before docking. The astronauts will remove the fuel and equipment within and send the ATv back to Earth in six months time, filled with waste material. Jules Verne will burn up in the atmosphere although in the future reentry-proof canisters may be included.

[story and image via Space.com]