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Airbus to Construct GRACE-C Twin Spacecraft

Our Bureau - : Mar 20, 2024 - : 1:45 am

Airbus has secured a contract from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, to design and manufacture the GRACE-C twin spacecraft. This collaborative effort between NASA and the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt / DLR) aims to bolster the longstanding partnership between the USA and Germany for continuous monitoring of the Earth’s gravity field, which began in 2002 with the GRACE mission and continued with GRACE Follow-On in 2018.

The GRACE-C Mission (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment-Continuity) will span a nominal mission lifetime of five years, focusing on observing shifts in Earth’s groundwater, oceans, ice sheets, and land on a month-to-month basis by measuring changes in the planet’s gravity field.

“It is amazing to think that, without looking down at Earth, two satellites more than 200 km away from each other, can tell us how quickly our ice sheets are melting. In environmental monitoring, continuity is key,” said Alain Fauré, Head of Space Systems at Airbus.

“The valuable data provided by the previous GRACE missions is testament to their success and it is great news that Airbus continues to be part of this international mission providing the tools to measure how our climate is evolving,” he added.

The GRACE-C mission comprises two identical satellites orbiting around 200 km apart at an altitude of 500 km with an inclination of 89 degrees. Each satellite will measure around 3 x 2 x 1 metres and weigh approximately 600 kg. The launch is planned for late 2028 from the USA.

Similar to its predecessors, the GRACE-C mission aims to precisely measure small distance changes between the satellites resulting from gravity variations, with unprecedented precision down to the micron. The highly precise microwave ranging system will detect these changes, enabling the mapping of Earth’s gravity field with unparalleled accuracy.

The mission is based on a NASA/DLR interagency partnership, with German contributions funded by the Federal German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action as well as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen will oversee the design, construction, and delivery of the satellites to the launch site, including Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP) support for NASA/JPL. The German Space Operations Center (GSOC) of DLR will manage the mission’s operations.


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