The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected Italy's Alenia Spazio as the prime contractor for its Gravity Field and Steady State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), to be launched in 2005.

GOCE will be the first satellite in ESA's Living Planet programme, and will be used to provide data to help advance the knowledge of solid Earth physics, oceanography, ice sheet dynamics and sea level changes.

Alenia will be supported by Astrium, which will provide the spacecraft bus. Alcatel Space will supply a gradiometer instrument to measure the gravity field and shape of the Earth, and ONERA is providing the Gradiometer's accelerometers.

The 770kg (1,700lb) satellite will be launched into a relatively low 260km (160 miles) sun-synchronous orbit, which will result in the satellite having a two- year operational lifetime.

The GOCE satellite has been designed to be compatible for launch on a Euro-Russian Rockot, which is part of the Arianespace stable, or on the US Orbital Sciences' Taurus booster, depending on whether the craft is fitted with a body-mounted solar array or deployable solar array.

GOCE could also be one of the payloads on a shared Ariane 5 sun-synchronous launch.

Source: Flight International