Airbus Defence and Space

Technology finds its form

The form of the satellite is dictated by the technological solution adopted

Airbus Defence and Space technology shapes Earth Explorer missions

Airbus Defence and Space is playing a predominant role in all six of ESA’s Earth Explorer missions designed to monitor different aspects of our environment and contribute to the global efforts of understanding our Earth system. Three have been launched and are performing superbly in orbit. Each one has a distinct mission focus, and therefore the technological challenges they pose are very different – challenges to which Airbus Defence and Space’s engineers have risen with imagination, dedication and consummate skill.

The Earth Explorer missions form the science and research element of ESA’s Living Planet Programme and focus on several key areas – the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and Earth's interior – that must be studied to understand the changes in our climate, the interactions between these components and also the impact that human activity is having on natural Earth processes.

The three Earth Explorers which are already in operation are delivering a host of new invaluable data. GOCE (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer), the gravity mission, for which Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen was responsible for the novel platform design and build, was launched on 17 March 2009. GOCE is a complement to the Airbus Defence and Space-led CHAMP and GRACE missions.

The SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity), the water mission, launched on launched on 2 November 2009, carries a single instrument, an innovative L-band radiometer designed and manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space in Spain.  

CryoSat-2, the ice mission, for which Airbus Defence and Space Friedrichshafen was prime contractor, was launched on 8 April 2010.

Technology finds its form

Looking at these satellites, what is most immediately striking is how different in shape they are. In all three cases, the physical form of the spacecraft is dictated by the nature of the technological solution adopted.

 CryoSat-2 – under one roof  GOCE – long and lean for aerodynamic surfing  SMOS – a many-studded star
           The ice mission             The gravity mission            The water mission


Exploring further

Airbus Defence and Space is also prime contractor for all the other three Earth Explorers which are in development or production: the three-satellite magnetic field mission Swarm, the wind-monitoring mission ADM-Aeolus, and the EarthCARE mission to study clouds and aerosols. These missions, too, all have their own particular technological challenges – but that’s a story for a later day!

Earth ObservationTechnology