ESA's GOCE gravity-mapping satellite to fall to Earth next month

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Originally published on September 26, 2013

The European Space Agency's GOCE satellite will fall back to Earth next month after nearly five years gathering data on the Earth's gravitational field.

The $450 million GOCE satellite was launched in 2009 with the mission of creating the most accurate and detailed model of the Earth's gravitational field yet, known as a geoid.

The GOCE's position in relation to Earth is measured by GPS tools and this data helps develop a map of of the planet's gravitational field. Onboard instruments which detect tiny variations in the Earth's gravitational pull help complete the picture.

The spacecraft is the lowest-orbiting satellite in history: at just 254 km above the Earth it comes very close to the lowest safe orbital altitude.

The satellite will begin falling Earthward from a height of 224 km when it exhausts its fuel in mid-October.Most of the satellite is expected to disintegrate in the atmosphere during its descent.

The data provided by GOCE will allow scientists to better understand global ocean circulation system and the behaviour of tectonic plates in earthquake zones, among numerous other applications.

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