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Thales Alenia Space's spaceborne explorers of climate change

25 June 2010

GOCE, SMOS and Cryosat/Siral spotlighted at ESA’s Living Planet conference

Cannes, June 25, 2010 – For the last 15 months a new generation of European satellites has been exploring our planet to help us better understand the different factors that influence climate change. GOCE, SMOS and Cryosat/Siral are the first members in the family of “Earth Explorer” missions deployed by the European Space Agency (ESA). Thales Alenia Space played a decisive role in the development and production of these three extraordinary satellites.

From June 28 to July 2, more than 1,000 scientists and specialists in Earth observation will gather in Bergen, Norway, for a conference dedicated to the Living Planet programme, launched in 1999 by ESA. “Earth Explorers” is the facet of this programme designed to explore new areas in order to increase the number of climate markers being monitored, based on the use of state-of-the-art technologies and sensors with unrivaled precision.

The initial results gathered by the three missions: GOCE, SMOS and Cryosat, in orbit since March 2009, November 2009 and April 2010, respectively, will be presented for the first time at the conference.

GOCE: a plumb line in orbit

Built by Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor, GOCE (Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) features an ultra-sensitive payload, also developed by Thales Alenia Space. It will be able to provide 3D measurements of the Earth’s gravitational field to an accuracy 10 to 100 times greater than previous missions, and with sensitivity increased 100 to 1,000-fold!

Following an intense phase of calibration and checking initial data transmitted by GOCE, which confirmed the instrument’s extraordinary precision, a first series of measurements was carried out in late 2009, and an initial dataset processed and given to scientists in early June. The conference in Bergen will see the first geoid model based on this data, with two days dedicated to this mission.

SMOS: spaceborne observer of the water cycle

On SMOS (Soil Moisture & Ocean Salinity), Thales Alenia Space supplied the Proteus platform (already used by the Jason oceanography satellites and the Calipso mission to study aerosols) and integrated it with an unprecedented payload, comprising 69 passive sensors on three deployable arms, operating like a huge interferometric radiometer.

Following the in orbit calibration and testing phase, which lasted six months, the SMOS satellite was given the operational green light in May, and started its first series of measurements. Initial results, as well as the calibration and validation campaign based on aerial measurements in Europe and Australia, will be presented in special sessions at the conference in Bergen.

Cryosat: the ice sounder

The Cryosat mission is dedicated to the study of polar ice caps and ice fields. Thales Alenia Space developed an exceptional payload for this mission, Siral, an SAR (synthetic aperture radar) interferometric radar altimeter. Light (90 kg) and compact, the Siral instrument combines three measurement modes to provide high-precision mapping of land and sea ice, floating ice and terrain transitions, especially between ice fields and the continent.

Just a few hours after being launched on April 8, Cryosat started to send data, including views of the Ross Barrier in Antarctica that differentiate between layers of snow and ice. The satellite is now performing calibration and validation tests of its measurements, which will be announced at Bergen, prior to entering service at the end of the summer.

Thales Alenia Space, a pivotal player in Earth observation

The pivotal role played by Thales Alenia Space in ESA’s Earth Explorer missions reflects the company’s long-standing commitment to climate and environmental observation, starting with the first Meteosat satellites built in Cannes in the late 1970s. Thales Alenia Space has partnered not only ESA, but also Eumetsat, French space agency CNES, Italian space agency ASI and even the European Commission on virtually all missions in this field, either as prime contractor (three Meteosat generations, GOCE, Jason Calipso, etc.) or as supplier of advanced payloads (Topex, Envisat, MetOp, Cryosat, Altika, Vegetation, etc.). The company’s expertise is largely recognised in international markets, and has led to collaborative missions outside Europe, including with South Korea (Kompsat 5), India (Saral), Canada (Radarsat 2) and the United States (Topex, Jason, Calipso, GFO-2 RA).

Thales Alenia Space will continue along this path to help decision-makers in Europe and around the world manage the huge challenge of climate change. In addition to its role as prime contractor for the third generation of Meteosat satellites, Thales Alenia Space is making a major contribution to GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), a joint ESA and European Commission program, including being chosen as prime contractor for the Sentinel 1 and Sentinel 3 satellites. At the same time, Thales Alenia Space continues to explore the vast possibilities offered by its advanced technologies to develop new applications: for instance, taking a closer look at the carbon cycle, another key factor in climate change.

About Thales Alenia Space
European leader in satellite systems and a major player in orbital infrastructures, Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Finmeccanica (33%). Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio embody the two groups’ “Space Alliance”. Thales Alenia Space sets the global standard in solutions for space telecoms, radar and optical Earth observation, defense and security, navigation and science. The company, which achieved revenues of Euro 2 billion in 2009, has a total of 7,200 employees located in 11 industrial sites in France, Italy, Spain and Belgium.

Thales Alenia Space Press Contacts
Florence Pontieux - Tel: +33 (0)1 57 77 91 26

Sandrine Bielecki - Tel: +33 (0)4 92 92 70 94

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