Friday, January 16, 2009

Big year ahead for earth observation missions

Red Orbit has a good summary of upcoming European satellite launches. This is just a few snips: With three Earth Explorer satellites set to launch this year, another three under construction and up to three more about to be selected for feasibility study, 2009 promises to be a significant year for [the European Space Agency’s] contribution to Earth science – paving the way to a clearer understanding of how our planet works.

…The first Earth Explorer to launch is ESA's gravity mission GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer), which although delayed last year due to a problem with the Russian launcher, is scheduled to lift-off in March. GOCE will map global variations in the gravity field with extreme detail and accuracy. This is crucial for deriving accurate measurements of ocean circulation and sea-level rise, both of which are affected by climate change.

Next up is SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity), which is planned to launch in July. Currently, the satellite is in storage at Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France. Once launched, SMOS will deliver data to address the current lack of global observations of soil moisture and ocean salinity. These data are needed to further our knowledge of the water cycle and contribute to weather, extreme-event forecasting and seasonal-climate forecasting.

Towards the end of 2009, ESA's ice mission CryoSat-2 will launch. With diminishing ice cover a reality, CryoSat-2 has been designed to measure the exact rate of change in the thickness of ice floating in the oceans and ice sheets on land. This will help explain the connection between the loss of polar ice, the rise in sea levels and climate change….