earth online
  • News
  • New Cold atom gravimetry campa...

New Cold atom gravimetry campaign dataset released

10 Jul 2023

A new dataset has been released for the Cold atom gravimetry airborne campaign, which took place in Iceland in 2017.

The Twin Otter DHC-6 NorlandAir aircraft used for the campaign
The Twin Otter DHC-6 NorlandAir aircraft used for the campaign

ESA conducts airborne and ground-based campaigns to support the development of new instruments, and calibration and validation of existing instruments. These campaigns simulate satellite-based instruments and are conducted all over the world in support of a wide range of applications.

The Cold atom gravimetry campaign was the first ever attempted airborne gravity survey using cold atom matter-wave gravimetry. The campaign used the GIRAFE (Gravimètre Interférométrique de Recherche à Atomes Froids, Embarquable) instrument, which was originally designed for use on sea-going vessels, but modified for use on an aircraft by the campaign team. The goal was to test whether an absolute gravimeter would successfully work from an aircraft, in comparison to the more commonly used relative gravimeters used on aircraft and satellites; which suffer from drift and require calibration. The instrument was gyro-stabilised to compensate for the strong vibrations an aircraft experiences while in flight.

The GIRAFE instrument
The GIRAFE instrument

GIRAFE was installed aboard a Twin Otter DHC-6 aircraft, which was available for use in Iceland after the recent conclusion of a CryoVEx campaign. Five test flights were conducted, three of which were over Vatnäjökull ice cap and gathered data to build a gravity map of the area.

The campaign was highly successful, despite the inherent challenges of installing and using a prototype instrument intended for sea-going use, and doing so in test flights over rugged topography. Analysis of the gravity measurements showed errors ranging from 2 to 4 mGal, and when compared to upward continued ground truth the deviation on the difference ranged from 3 to 6 mGal.

These results demonstrated that with further testing and development, cold atom sensors could be used to measure Earth’s gravity field from space.

Data acquired during the campaign are freely offered for download following submission of a data access request.

Learn more about Cold atom gravimetry campaign and how to request the data.