ESA's gravity mission to launch on March 16

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Paris, Feb 5 (ANI): The European Space Agency (ESA) is gearing up to return to Russia to oversee preparations for the launch of its gravity measuring GOCE satellite, which is now envisaged for launch on March 16, 2009.

This follows implementation of the corrective measures after the anomaly with the Rocket launcher that delayed the launch of GOCE by Eurockot Launch Services in October last year.

An advance party from ESA has just arrived at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia to arrange logistical matters while the team of engineers will arrive in mid-February.

The five metre-long GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite has been in storage at the launch site since last October.

Once the team of ESA and Thales Alenia Space engineers arrive, work will begin preparing the satellite for launch.

As prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space has led an all-European consortium of over 40 companies to build the GOCE satellite.

According to ESA's GOCE Project Manager Danilo Muzi, "The team are really eager to resume the launch campaign and to finish the job interrupted last autumn. The launch in a few weeks time will be the deserved reward for all their efforts."

GOCE is the first in a series of Earth observation satellites called Earth Explorers.

These small missions are developed in direct response to a range of Earth-science issues identified by the scientific community whilst demonstrating new technology in space.

The sleek high-tech design of GOCE embodies many firsts in terms of design and use of new technology to map the Earth's gravity field as never before.

GOCE takes six simultaneous measurements of the gravity field.

The satellite has been designed to orbit just 250 km above the surface of the Earth, with its unusual aerodynamic shape cutting through of what remains of the atmosphere.

This low-orbiting satellite is the first mission to employ the concept of gradiometry in space.

The concept involves the measurement of acceleration differences over short distances between an ensemble of proof masses inside the spacecraft that respond to tiny variations in the 'gravitational tug' of the Earth as it travels along its orbital path.

The data acquired by GOCE will bring about a whole new level of understanding of one of the Earth most fundamental forces of nature.

Improved knowledge of the gravity field is one of the most important building blocks for understanding how the Earth works. (ANI)

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