The European Space Agency’s Gravity field and state-steady Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) should be in space by now. In fact it should have been launched back on September 10th, but it wasn’t to be. After the spacecraft (which has a striking resemblance to something a little more sci-fi… like a star destroyer) had been sealed into the payload bay of the Rockot launch vehicle at Plesetsk cosmodrome 800 km from Moscow, I assumed that was it, we wouldn’t be seeing GOCE ever again. But there was a glitch in the guidance and navigation subsystem of the Breeze KM third stage, thus postponing GOCE’s big day. GOCE was cracked open from its rocket powered cocoon to await a Rockot oil change.
Now it seems the delays are mounting up for this amazing experiment and a launch doesn’t seem possible until February at the earliest…
I’ve made my feelings for GOCE very clear on a few occasions. It is a beautiful looking satellite. People look at the stunning artist’s renderings of the craft in orbit and they all say “wow!” Many will argue that “looks don’t matter” for satellites, it should all be about the science. But it is all about the science, GOCE has to look cool to stay in orbit! It’s sleek aerodynamic design wasn’t a mistake. It is measuring tiny changes in the Earth’s gravitational field and so it has a lower orbital altitude (of 260 km) forcing it to pass through the tenuous upper atmosphere. This causes a small amount of drag, hence the design.
But to top the whole package off, it has some low energy ion thrusters to push it along its way. It is one great looking satellite! As if that wasn’t enough, the whole package will be launched inside a converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Rockot.
However, there’s a problem with the Breeze KM stage. “The necessary hardware changes will require a minimum of two months of additional work by the manufacturer,” said the ESA press release. “As a consequence, the launch of GOCE cannot take place earlier than February 2009; however, the exact launch date will only be decided at a later stage once the corrective measures have been fully implemented and validated.”
At least the issue isn’t with GOCE itself, and all going well we should see a successful launch in February…
Source: Space Daily