German-built gravity research satellites are on the way to the launch site at
Vandenberg Air Force Base in California – launch is planned for spring 2018.
Munich/Friedrichshafen, 12/12/2017 – The twin GRACE-FO satellites have now set off on
their journey to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Together with test equipment
totalling around 45 tonnes, the gravity research satellites built and developed by Airbus in
Friedrichshafen (Germany) were loaded overnight onto an air freighter at Munich airport and
flown to the USA this morning. GRACE-FO is a joint project between NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL) based in Pasadena, California, and the German Research Centre for
Geosciences (GFZ) in Potsdam.
Both GRACE-FO research satellites are scheduled for launch in spring 2018, and will be
placed in a polar orbit of around 500 kilometres and with a distance of 220 kilometres
between them. The mission is planned to last at least five years. The satellites will constantly
measure the distance between each other to within a few microns using a microwave system
built at JPL. At the same time, a sensitive accelerometer, built at Onera in France, will
account for non-gravitational effects, such as atmospheric drag and solar radiation. The data
will be used to track the movement of liquid water, ice and land masses by creating monthly
maps of the changes in Earth’s gravitational field. GRACE-FO continues this essential
climate record established by the predecessor GRACE mission, a joint project between the
United States and Germany. GRACE ended its science operations in October after more
than 15 years of operations.
The GRACE-FO satellites will also feature a new inter-satellite laser ranging instrument,
developed in a German/American joint venture, which will be tested for use in future
generations of satellites. In addition, each satellite will record up to 200 profiles per day of
temperature distribution and water-vapour content in the atmosphere and the ionosphere to
aid weather forecasting.
A team of 15 Airbus space engineers and technicians are currently awaiting the arrival of the
satellites in California. The plan is to assemble all test systems on site and check the
GRACE-FO spacecraft before the Christmas break in readiness for the launch campaign in
Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2016 it generated revenues of €67 billion
and employed a workforce of around 134,000. Airbus offers the most comprehensive range of passenger airliners
from 100 to more than 600 seats and business aviation products. Airbus is also a European leader providing
tanker, combat, transport and mission aircraft, as well as one of the world’s leading space companies. In
helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions worldwide.
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