GOCE: Gravitational Gradiometry in a Satellite

  • Reiner Rummel
Living reference work entry


Spring 2009 the satellite Gravity and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), equipped with a gravitational gradiometer, was launched by European Space Agency (ESA). Its purpose is the detailed determination of the spatial variations of the Earth’s gravitational field, with applications in oceanography, geophysics, geodesy, glaciology, and climatology. Gravitational gradients are derived from the differences between the measurements of an ensemble of three orthogonal pairs of accelerometers, located around the center of mass of the spacecraft. Gravitational gradiometry is complemented by gravity analysis from orbit perturbations. The orbits are thereby derived from uninterrupted and three-dimensional GPS tracking of GOCE. The gravitational tensor consists of the nine second-derivatives of the Earth’s gravitational potential. Due to its symmetry only six of them are independent. These six components can also be interpreted in terms of the local curvature of the field or in terms of components of the tidal field generated by the Earth inside the spacecraft. Four of the six components are measured with high precision (10− 11 s− 2 per square-root of Hz), the others are less precise. Several strategies exist for the determination of the gravity field at the Earth’s surface from the measured tensor components at altitude. The mission ended in November 2013. Until August 2012 in total 2.3 years of data were collected. They entered into ESA’s fourth release of GOCE gravity models. After August 2012 the orbit altitude was lowered in several steps by altogether 31 km in order to test the enhanced gravitational sensitivity at lower orbit heights.


European Space Agency Geostrophic Velocity Star Sensor Height System Gravitational Gradient 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Astronomische und Physikalische GeodäsieTechnische Universität MünchenMünchenGermany

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