CHAMP: A Fiery End

Modellbild des Geoforschungssatelliten CHAMP

20.09.2010 | Potsdam: After 58277 orbits it was finally all over: in the afternoon of 19. September the georesearch satellite CHAMP burned up in space . Exactly 10 years, two months and 4 days after going into orbit, the satellite ended its mission over the Sea of Okhotsk.

Professor Hermann Lühr, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, communicated this news. Up until the end, Hermann Lühr was responsible for the evaluation of the magnetic field data measured by CHAMP: “CHAMP was last located above the German station Weilheim on Sunday at 10:26 CEST. At this time it was flying at only 150 kilometres above the Earth and had been in orbit for 3718 days”.

The Federal Ministry for Education and Research initiated a satellite mission in 1995 as a flagship project for the East German space industry, in order to promote the existing know-how in Eastern Germany in this field. The concept CHAMP (Challenging Mini Satellite Payload), proposed by the GFZ (Helmholtz Association), was selected for the realisation of this mission. As a result, a 522 kg heavy satellite with a total length of 8.33 m was developed. It was used to measure the Earth's gravity field, the Earth’s magnetic field and to probe the atmosphere. Ten years ago CHAMP was put into orbit at an altitude of approximately 460 kilometres . Originally it was expected that CHAMP would have a lifetime of four to five years. Due to its design, however, the satellite had such a stable flight even at a low flight path that the mission time could be more than doubled. The satellite owes its long life span to the fact that the cold gas originally intended for position control could additionally be used to raise CHAMP four times.

Now, after a full decade of orbiting, the following conclusion can be drawn: Internationally, CHAMP has been one of the most successful satellite missions for Earth observation. Professor Dr. Reinhard Hüttl, Scientific Executive Director and Chairman of the GFZ Board, said with respect to the end of CHAMP: “The success of the Champ Mission shows the scientific and economic potential of Earth observation satellites. For the GFZ, satellite missions are indispensable also in future; TandemX, EnMap, SWARM and GRACE-C stand for our priorities in the Earth's gravity field, the Earth’s magnetic field and surface observations.”

The initiator of the CHAMP Mission was Professor Christoph Reigber, at that time Director of the Department “Geodesy and Remote Sensing” at the GFZ. In November, the French Air and Space Academy will be awarding him the “Grand-Prix” for his achievements in connection with the CHAMP and GRACE Missions.

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