Next Generation Gravity Mission Will Measure the Earth’s Gravity Field with Unprecedented Resolution

After the successful experience of the gravity missions GRACE and GOCE, the European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing the design of the Next Generation Gravity Mission (NGGM), aimed at measuring the temporal variations of the Earth’s gravity field over up to 11 years with unprecedented resolution.

NNGM will advance many scientific disciplines based on the study of geophysical phenomena involving the redistribution and transportation of mass (e.g. geodesy, hydrology, ocean circulation) within the complex Earth system. Indeed, mass transport in the Earth’s system takes place in several layers located above, at, and below the Earth’s surface (concerning Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, Cryosphere and Solid-Earth). The goal is to observe the mass transport processes acting in and between these layers.

Luca Masotti, RHEA Group’s Spacecraft Design Engineering working at the European Research and Technology Center (ESTEC), is responsible for the mission preparation, iterations with the scientific community, system requirements consolidation, the system design, and the necessary technology developments for the mission.    

“NGGM is the only direct way to measure the mass globally and the mass transport in the Earth system, e.g. being complementary to SAR/Interferometric Radar altimetry for the monitoring of ice,” said Masotti.

The mission will build on the results of the Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) mission and shall urgently fill the gap after the GRACE-FO mission, due to launch in March 2018 with a nominal lifetime of five years. While GOCE aimed to provide a high-resolution static map of Earth’s gravity, the objective of the next generation gravity mission is long-term monitoring of the time-variable gravity field with high temporal and spatial resolution.  

“NGGM is the only direct way to measure the mass globally and the mass transport in the Earth system, e.g. being complementary to SAR/Interferometric Radar altimetry for the monitoring of ice.”
Luca Masotti
RHEA Group’s Spacecraft Design Engineering working at the European Research and Technology Center (ESTEC).

This new mission implies new measurement techniques and instrumentation, a new mission scenario and different spacecraft design drivers. Despite the differences, however, the achievements of GOCE stand as the basis on which the new mission is being created.

“NGGM will reuse the experience gained and the technology used on GOCE (like accelerometers and electric propulsion) for the fine measurement of the variable gravity field, continuing the observations of the GRACE missions at increased temporal and spatial resolution,” added Masotti.

Masotti will present the challenges of the design of the mission at the 2018 SciTech Forum taking place from 8-12 January in the United States.

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