This is the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer. Or GOCE for short. Or the most amazingly good looking spaceship orbiting around planet Earth. Or Darth Vader's racing shuttle. Call it whatever you want but when it's launched next month on a Russian Rockot, this vessel will be the first of the five Earth Explorers, which are here to save the planet even while they look like they can destroy it.
GOCE belongs to the group that the European Space Agency classifies as Earth Explorers: five new satellites dedicated to provide a closer, more intimate look of our planet. And while CRYOSAT and SWARM look funky too—with SMOS and AEOLUS being a bit more conventional—GOCE's design seems straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Developed to do a precise map of Earth's gravity field—with the help of onboard instrumentation and the GPS network—and also study the oceans' circulation.
It will study changes in polar ice caps and floating ice.
Designed to measure soil moisture in land and salinity in the oceans, which will help us understand better the behaviour of the oceans.
It will analyse wind patterns to improve weather forecasts and the understanding of atmospheric dynamics.
This constellation of satellites will control the evolution of the Earth's geomagnetic field to help us understand Earth's interior and its climate.