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ESA verstärkt mit dem Projekt MAGIC weltraumbasierte Gravitationsforschung

ESA strengthens space-based gravitational research with MAGIC project

© Jan Hosan/QuantumFrontiers
Vitali Müller, Head of QuantumFrontiers Topical Group Space Laser Gravimetry, with a model of the GRACE satellites

QuantumFrontiers researchers provide expertise on laser interferometers

Last week, the European Space Agency (ESA) presented the projects it will fund in the coming years as part of its Earth observation programme. A total of €2.7 billion is available for the Earth science, research and development programme. Among the projects funded is "MAGIC", which will take the measurement of the Earth´ gravity from space to a new level.

A detailed measurement of the gravity provides invaluable information about the amount of water in the oceans, ice sheets, glaciers, near the surface and - unique among all space technologies - below the Earth's surface. Most importantly, it is possible to measure how this water and other masses shift over time.

MAGIC stands for "Mass change And Geosciences International Constellation" and will most likely consist of two pairs of satellites. The first pair of satellites is currently still operating under the German project name GRACE-I respectively the American name "Mass Change Mission (MCM)" and, like the GRACE/GRACE-FO missions, will be built in a German-American partnership. The second pair of MAGIC satellites will be ESA-led and will bear the name "Next Generation Gravity Mission" (NGGM).

With two matched pairs of satellites, the measurement accuracy for changes in the Earth's gravity field - both their temporal and spatial resolution - will be significantly increased. Such data will open the door to new applications, including early warnings of extreme events, especially droughts or floods.

In all missions, the Earth's gravity field is determined by measuring changes in distance between the two satellites of a pair. The high-precision measurement system required for this is based on laser interferometers that were developed at the Albert Einstein Institute for GRACE-FO with funding from the BMBF and are now being refined within the framework of QuantumFrontiers and the TerraQ collaborative research centre, among others, as well as contracts from ESA. The researchers will also apply their expertise to the satellite missions that are now being developed.