Developed and integrated by Thales Alenia Space for the European Space Agency (ESA), GOCE is the most sophisticated mission ever to investigate the Earth’s gravitational field and to map the reference shape of our planet — the geoid — with unprecedented resolution and accuracy. It will also provide invaluable insight to better understand our climate and ocean circulation. GOCE is the first Core Mission in ESA’s Earth Explorer program. During its planned orbital lifetime of 20 months, it will provide the first high-resolution map of the Earth’s gravitational field, knowledge which is fundamental for oceanographic, geophysical, geodetic, glaciology and climatology applications.
Thales Alenia Space is ESA’s prime contractor for the realisation of the GOCE satellite and has been responsible for its project development, integration and testing. The company also developed the sophisticated Electrostatic Gravity Gradiometer, which is the main payload, for measuring the terrestrial gravitational field, and relies on a set of six ultra sensitive capacitive sensors. Further contributions made by the company to one of ESA’s most challenging missions include:
- The “drag free and attitude-control” system to compensate the braking effect of atmospheric molecules still present on operational orbit
- The end-to-end simulator, capable of generating equivalent mission data and of estimating the end-to-end in-orbit performance, which is not verifiable on ground
- A couple of sophisticated GPS receivers and the on-board computer.