Sunday, March 21, 2010

ESA's Living Planet Program

The European Space Agency (ESA), dedicates its efforts not only to observing space, but also to observing planet Earth from above. The "Living Planet Program" is part of these efforts. This program constitutes of several missions, part of which are the Earth Explorer missions, which themselves constitute of one or several satellites. I wont even try to imagine the complexity of administrative issues behind these layers of organization. According to the blurb

"The Earth Explorer missions are designed to address key scientific challenges identified by the science community blahblahblah breakthrough technology in observing techniques blabla peer-reviewed selection process blabla gives Europe an excellent opportunity for international cooperation blablabla"

The first satellite, GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer), was launched on March 17 2009. Its task is to provide precision measurements of the Earth's gravitational fields. The strength of the gravitational field of the Earth depends on the local density of the matter and thus contains geological information. The precision of these measurements is quite amazing. ESA's marketing department moreover lets us know that "the sleek, elegant aerodynamic design of GOCE immediately sets it apart from most other satellites." See illustration to the left. Book a test-drive at your nearest dealership.

The second satellite (see picture to the right) was launched November 2nd 2009. Dubbed SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) it will provide global maps of (guess) soil moisture and ocean salinity with one of the purposes being to improve "extreme-event forecasting." I suppose "extreme event" is PR-speak for "natural disaster."

The third sattelite, CryoSat-2, is scheduled to launch on 8 April 2010. Its mission is to measure variations in the thickness of continental ice sheets. It was originally scheduled to launch Feb 25, but the launch was postponed due to technical problems. The website let us know the satellite "is currently being 'babysat' in the integration facilities by two team members."

The remaining three missions are in the planning phase. They contain Swarm: three satellites measuring the Earth's magnetic field to provide inside about the inner dynamics, ADM-Aeolus: measuring the wind-fields and hopefully contributing to improvements in weather forecasting, and EarthCARE: measuring Earth's radiative balance. To me EarthCARE sounds more like an immunization program by Doctors without Borders.

ESA is an international organization with 18 member states: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and Canada takes part in some projects under a cooperation agreement.

I find it amazing when I imagine what amount of knowledge and attention to details is necessary to put a satellite into orbit. I'm not even sure what I'm more impressed by, the "breakthrough technology" or the complexity of global collaboration and organization to make it possible.

29 comments:

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

It would appear at the moment the European Union is more active with their space program then the Amercain’s. The American government in recent months has announced its cutting the return to the moon program and with the shuttle program ending in the months to come they will have to resort to going to the international space station by thumbing a ride with the Russians.

One would have to concede the ESA missions although very practical is not the sort of thing to capture the imagination and more reflective of our current paranoid new world, in contrast to the brave new one it use to serve as the vanguard to inspire. Personally I think we all as a people have now hit a flat spot in our history, with all our self preoccupation to have us simply be content to have the science and technology of those that came before have us able to limp along. I see this could cause very long term problems and hope it won’t be too long until we are raised up again by some future more curious and bold generation. For me you summed it all up with the BLa BLa BLa’s as to have it described.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I don't have a good overview on that. It seems to me ESA and NASA do a good job complementing each other. I would expect that they work closely together. Regarding the investment, on the ESA website you can read

"How big is ESA’s budget?

ESA's budget for 2010 is €3745 million. ESA operates on the basis of geographical return, i.e. it invests in each Member State, through industrial contracts for space programmes, an amount more or less equivalent to each country’s contribution.

How much does each European spend on ESA?

European per capita investment in space is very little. On average, every citizen of an ESA Member State pays, in taxes for expenditure on space, about the same as the price of a cinema ticket (in USA, investment in civilian space activities is almost four times as much)."


I guess that means a cinema ticket per year. And regarding the paranoid new world:

"ESA's purpose shall be to provide for, and to promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among European States in space research and technology and their space applications, with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for operational space applications systems"

(Emphasis mine). I was putting this post together because ESA is one of the nice examples where the European Union actually works, and it's a decades old example. Now that I am back in the EU and work in a multinational organization within that Union, it's hard not to be cynical about nationalist tendencies. Even as simple things as using a grant from one EU country in another country don't work. There's way to go. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

You're amazed, Bee? I'm not, but then again I'm so old I remember watching on television every Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space launch in real-time, and took it for granted that people who want to make these things come together, make it so.

Well, Go Europe! Take it easy on the EU though, it's very young. Given Europe's history, it is interesting that the continent can come together in anything. But the EU is young, so there will be growing pains. For once there's something younger than my America. Nice.

Also, Go Canada! Having Canada on your side never hurts. Everyone respects them as far as I can tell.

Hey, if I ever go overseas? There will be a nice baseball cap with a big maple leaf on it in my future, yup.

Bee said...

Well yes. But to be honest I also manage to be amazed by sitting at an airport terminal. All these people, going from somewhere to somewhere, buying something, talking to somebody, carrying something, breathing, eating, communicating, reproducing (well, maybe not at the airport). They all have a reason to be there, one that only they might know about, they are all little wheels in a giant machinery that, over the course of thousands of years, managed to produce these buildings, products, technologies (satellites), in a continuous interplay of an increasingly complex system with laws, rules, policies and unwritten norms. Why?

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

My point was not to have it thought that I like one nation pitted against another, as to decide who that might be or to have competition serve as the sole engine of progress. What I was attempting to convey is the space programs today in general appear to be more focused inward then outward, with having maintenance, management and planetary stewardship more as what it’s being harnessed to serve, as opposed to the mission of discovery.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for stewardship, yet at the same time aware it is our yearning for discovery when presented as a challenge that represents the best aspects of our species. That’s to say that what has us go forward is in having first a direction and yet more importantly feeling inspired to go there. So I would say while we should not be negligent in our responsibilities, we shouldnot be reduced to a people so occupied in checking their temperatures constantly, resultant in having the fear of dying become more important than our reasons for living, which should comprise to be inspired by our dreams, rather than our nightmares.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

If you mean with "going elsewhere" that to find wonder and inspiration you need to place a human on another planet, then I cannot follow. We have a pretty damned amazing planet directly under our feet. You might not find it very inspiring to investigate it's inner dynamics, windfields, or temperature, but I think this is a scientifically very interesting area. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

What I mean is as I said as not having it as unimportant, yet rather one should not be at the expense or exclusion of the other. Also its not to say I’m looking forward to living on other world or even my grandson to have such a hope, yet I’m afraid this ultimate dream has been lost to having us more concerned if we will live to breath another day. Simply put, as is true in science nothing can exceed its potential and so I ask what we think that might be as that is all that it will be.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Yes, I agree, the one shouldn't exclude the other. Best,

B.

John Baez said...

the sleek, elegant aerodynamic design of GOCE immediately sets it apart from most other satellites.

Aerodynamic design, eh? So they're planning on having it fall into the upper atmosphere?

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

Don’t give up on your red, white and blue, as it was your nation, along with the Soviet’s that had me to imagine this brave new world was actually possible to attain, rather than being only a dream. Strangely for me it all started with that eerie beep of sputnik as heard over a radio as a boy and peeking with those famous words first spoken by a human on another world as I was about to become an adult.

Of course we could all be cynical about it, saying that the US space program was resultaant of the realization that the Soviet’s having developed the capability in putting an ICBM in any ofour back yards ,yet I understand that without the imagination fuelled by discovery we today would be unable to come together as we demonstrate here as to discuss it. That’s to say although it’s being foretold and often wished for that the meek will inherit the earth, yet seldom considered who it is that makes one worthy of desiring it be wanted to be had. This is what I see as the best aspect of the American spirit, which if they lose it, I see no others out there to keep this alive for the rest of the world to find as something of their own.

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

GOCE delivering data for best gravity map ever

In order to progress views about the world we live in, it is necessary to be methodical on the limits of knowledge reached, as to know when knowledge can be moved forward.

On planet Earth, we tend to think of the gravitational effect as being the same no matter where we are on the planet. We certainly don't see variations anywhere near as dramatic as those between the Earth and the Moon. But the truth is, the Earth's topography is highly variable with mountains, valleys, plains, and deep ocean trenches. As a consequence of this variable topography, the density of Earth's surface varies. These fluctuations in density cause slight variations in the gravity field, which, remarkably, GRACE can detect from space.Gravity 101

Perceptual changes as to how we look with our eyes mechanically developed with the spectrum developing view? Sort of, enhancing the views with regard to the reality we live in.

That is part of theoretical work in my view, is to manifest the conclusions drawn, as to whether or not, such proposals do indeed prove to be accurate.

In the case of Grace this has been a illuminating journey for me, not in terms of just "environmental viewing the realty of the world we live in," (LHC does this too on cosmic particle relations) but also paying tribute to the way in which science can now look at the sphere we live on "in a gravitational context." How the earth is being affected environmentally in it's position in the cosmos.

While appearing ugly in it's a new look, the travel is to see the continuance of knowledge espoused from the likes of those who first looked at the pearl of a planet from space, has always been the approach as to adding that one more dimension of time?

Best,

Plato said...

The instrument is able to detect the slight variation in change over different spots on the earth.

Using LIGO interferometer measure with use of beam of light, how would grace implement such deviations but to see the satellite drop in relation to it's counterpart?

Plato said...

Hi Phil,

Scientists need to be able to "work with time variable measures" not just as cartographers of the old world?:)

Map of North America from 1566 showing both Terra In Cognita and Mare In Cognito.

Terra incognitahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_incognita (with "incognita" stressed on the second syllable) is the Latin term for "unknown land", used in cartography for regions that have not been mapped or documented. The equivalent on French maps would be terres inconnues (plural form), and some English maps may show Parts Unknown.

Similarly, uncharted or unknown seas would be labeled Mare incognitum, Latin for "unknown sea".

An urban legend claims that cartographers labelled such regions with "Here be dragons". Although cartographers did claim that fantastic beasts (including large serpents) existed in remote corners of the world and depicted such as decoration on their maps, only one known surviving map, the Lenox Globe, in the collection of the New York Public Library [1], actually says "Here be dragons" (using the Latin "hic sunt dracones"). [2] Terra incognita may also refer to the imaginary continent Terra Australis.

During the 19th century terra incognita disappeared from maps, since both the coastlines and the inner parts of the continents had been fully explored.

The phrase is now also used metaphorically by various researchers to describe any unexplored subject or field of research.

John said...

"Scare quoting" doesn't really indicate that you're "impressed" by either the "breakthrough technology" or the "collaboration".

Bee said...

The quotation marks in my post are actual quotes. Better examples for "scare quotes" can be found here.

Bee said...

Plato: Hah, I see you're better up to date than me :-) Best,

B.

Uncle Al said...

America has become nothing compared to Europe. Check out the headline,

http://www.flickr.com/photos/skepchick/4445007033/

Bee said...

Yes, I had seen that. Given how often I've seen this typo one is lead to suspect they do it on purpose.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Uncle Al,

As related to Bee I could care less who is accredited for having pushed the envelope, as knowing that all such distinctions render to be of little substance respective of the reality. That being as to recognize what Bee was attempting to convey, that we reside in a world more reliant on the potentials, abilities and strengths of the whole, rather than those of any particular part.

As an example, although the supercollider never came to be realized, still much of what the LHC is comprised of, in terms of both hardware science and technology is resultant of its initial conception. So I find the shared aspirations and dreams more important than who claims to have achieved there ends, as without them there would never be anything conceived to take pride in having them accomplished. My only concern then being what those actually turn out to be.

Best,

Phil

Kris Krogh said...

Hi John,

"The sleek, elegant aerodynamic design of GOCE"

is for real. It's measuring tiny gravitational perturbations to its orbit and the altitude is just 260 km. Even a little atmospheric drag and turbulence would be a problem. More here.

Cheers, Kris

John Baez said...

Thanks for the info, Kris. It's nice to hear that the aerodynamic design serves some useful purpose.

In Star Trek, the Enterprise has a "sleek aerodynamic design", apparently for no reason except esthetics. The Klingons and Romulans too. Only the obnoxious Borg have the gall to make a starship shaped like a cube!

Kris Krogh said...

Hi John,

Not only does the enterprise have a sleek aerodynamic design, it seems to have gravity inside!

I enjoy the show, but cringe at the title of Lawrence Krauss' book, "The Physics of Star Trek," with a forward by Steven Hawking. No plans to read that one.

Cheers, Kris

Plato said...

Entering new territory like Christopher Columbus, we have good reasons to think that these new realms contain"new physics"-a world beyond the Old World of Fundamental particles and forces. Like Columbus, we have expectations about where our journey made lead us. And like Columbus, we do not know how far away the New World may lie, and our preconceptions may well be completely wrong.See:Into a New World of Physics and Symmetry

Doesn't sound like fiction to me, nor scary either.:)I know they're paying a lot of money to find out.

I think my comparison was more toward comparing Riemann to Columbus. The cartographers to his predecessors and his teacher Gauss(Gauss's mountain), discussing the flatness of earth, which provided a forum in which to allow discovery of Non-euclidean geometries?

Einstein just knew what to do with it and voila, it's all about gravity:)

Yes Bee I was ahead of you on this topic. Gravity was in my perspective, I was just following the clues tracks. Keeping track of the experiments helps to teach some of the basic principles. Without a full fledge teacher it is difficult.

I'm considering Edupunk, just kidding:)

I am always open to corrections, just not with fictional comparisons like Star Trek and the cube. I kinda like my own Mining Company on the Moon claim to land.:)I don't think you can claim the whole sphere with just one flag.:)

Best,

Steven Colyer said...

John Baez wrote: In Star Trek, the Enterprise has a "sleek aerodynamic design", apparently for no reason except aesthetics.

Almost. The Saucer shape could disengage from the rest of the ship for an emergency landing on a planet, hopefully one with a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere and only a few pathogens.

C'mon John, that's Trek 101. What are you doing with your time? Real science or something?

Love the algebraic Entropy btw. Quick everyone, which of the following two bits of binary code (thanks, Leibniz) has more algebraic entropy?

0000000000000000000000000

or

0100100110010011000110010

?

Steven Colyer said...

Oops, make that Algorithmic Entropy. Sorry. But there probably is an algebraic entropy, somewhere.

John Baez said...

Steven wrote:



The Saucer shape could disengage from the rest of the ship for an emergency landing on a planet, hopefully one with a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere and only a few pathogens.



Ah yes. I remember them threatening to detach the saucer section during various emergencies, but I'd forgotten they ever landed the darn thing.


C'mon John, that's Trek 101. What are you doing with your time? Real science or something?


Occasionally, yeah.

My wife and I actually enjoy watching Star Trek, not for the 'science', which makes me want to gag, but for the characters. Having watched all the Next Gen and Deep Space 9 episodes on DVD, my wife and I are now disconsolately watching the old original series. It's really a lot less interesting, psychologically speaking. Most characters wearing red shirts die. All beautiful females get kissed by Kirk. And strangely, the crew never thinks of wearing seat belts during battle, despite the number of episodes in which they are thrown to the floor by a violently shaking ship.The high point is when Spock raises his right eyebrow. That makes it all worthwhile.

John Baez said...

By the way: on a more relevant note, I think it's great that the EU is getting busy with a space program that's relevant to the needs of our time. We need to understand the Earth better - it's fascinating, mysterious and incredibly important. And since NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory crashed, and existing US climate satellites are aging and won't be replaced soon, it's up to other countries to step in and help out.