GOCE Launch on Monday

From: Gerhard HOLTKAMP (grd.holtkamp@t-online.de)
Date: Fri Mar 13 2009 - 18:53:54 UTC

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    After a half year delay to fix a problem with the Breeze-M upper stage another 
    attempt will be made to launch the European Gravity Field and Steady State 
    Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) at 14:21:03 UTC, 16-MAR-09 out of Plesetsk.
    
    The following TLEs are valid from S/C separation at 15:51:35 UTC:
    
    GOCE SEP                                
    1     0           09 75.66082176 0.00000000  00000-0  99999-4 0     9
    2     0  96.7005  84.3645 0012500 323.1621  86.6753 15.96875500     6
    
    Unfortunately, having a spacecraft in a very low (285 km) orbit following the 
    terminator is bad news for visual observations - particularly around equinox. 
    Observers at the East Coast of South Africa might have a first chance to see 
    GOCE in orbit right after 17:00 UTC, 16-MAR-09 and an hour and a half later 
    there may be a chance in Eastern Australia. In fact along a line from West of  
    Bundaberg (19:31:00 UTC) to Canberra (19:33:38 UTC) you might be able to see 
    a flare from one of the solar panels (but the attitude of GOCE is not in fine 
    pointing mode yet at the time so you should not rely too much on this 
    prediction). 
    
    A month later in mid-April opportunities for observations will have improved 
    considerably for the Southern Hemisphere (while we Northerners will have to 
    wait for our winter months). I'ld be particularly interested in any reports 
    about GOCE solar panel flares. Due to the very low orbit and the relative 
    faster speed across the sky those flares will be much quicker than our usual 
    Iridium flares - probably more flashes than flares. 
    
    Any ordinary spacecraft in such a low orbit would quickly decay. But GOCE is 
    no ordinary spacecraft. It is aerodynamically shaped to reduce drag, uses 
    special materials to avoid corrosion by atomic oxygen and after a checkout 
    period of little over a month a pair of small ion thrusters will exactly 
    ballance air drag to keep GOCE at a steady altitude of 270 km for a mission 
    duration of up to two years.
    
    Let's hope for a successful launch on Monday!
    
    Gerhard HOLTKAMP
    Darmstadt, Germany
      
    
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