The GRACE mission was selected as the second mission under the NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Program in May 1997. Launched in March of 2002, the GRACE mission is accurately mapping variations in Earth's gravity field. Designed for a nominal mission lifetime of five years, GRACE is currently operating in an extended mission phase, which is expected to continue through at least 2015.
GRACE consists of two identical spacecraft that fly about 220 kilometers (137 miles) apart in a polar orbit 500 kilometers (310 miles) above Earth. GRACE maps Earth's gravity field by making accurate measurements of the distance between the two satellites, using GPS and a microwave ranging system. It is providing scientists from all over the world with an efficient and cost-effective way to map Earth's gravity field with unprecedented accuracy. The results from this mission are yielding crucial information about the distribution and flow of mass within Earth and its surroundings.
The gravity variations studied by GRACE include: changes due to surface and deep currents in the ocean; runoff and ground water storage on land masses; exchanges between ice sheets or glaciers and the ocean; and variations of mass within Earth. Another goal of the mission is to create a better profile of Earth's atmosphere. GRACE results are making a huge contribution to the goals of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Earth Observation System (EOS) and global climate change studies.
GRACE is a joint partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States and Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Luft und Raumfahrt (DLR) in Germany. Dr. Byron Tapley of The University of Texas Center for Space Research (UTCSR) is the Principal Investigator (PI), and Frank Flechtner of the GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ) Potsdam is the Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI). Project management and systems engineering activities are carried out by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.