MOCASS: A Satellite Mission Concept Using Cold Atom Interferometry for Measuring the Earth Gravity Field
Both GRACE and GOCE have proven to be very successful missions, providing a wealth of data which are exploited for geophysical studies such as climate changes, hydrology, sea level changes, solid Earth phenomena, with benefits for society and the whole world population. It is indispensable to continue monitoring gravity and its changes from space, so much so that a GRACE follow-on mission has been launched in 2018. In this paper, a new satellite mission concept named MOCASS is presented, which can be considered as a GOCE follow-on, based on an innovative gradiometer exploiting ultra-cold atom technology and aimed at monitoring Earth mass distribution and its variations in time. The technical aspects regarding the payload will be described, illustrating the measurement principle and the technological characteristics of a cold atom interferometer that can measure gravity gradients. The results of numerical simulations will be presented for a one-arm and a two-arm gradiometer and for different orbit configurations, showing that an improvement with respect to GOCE could be obtained in the estimate of the static gravity field over all the harmonic spectrum (with an expected error of the order of 1 mGal at degree 300 for a 5-year mission) and that estimates are promising also for the time-variable gravity field (although GRACE is still performing better at very low degrees). Finally, the progress achievable by exploiting MOCASS observations for the detection and monitoring of geophysical phenomena will be discussed: the results of simulations of key geophysical themes (such as mass changes due to hydrology, glaciers and tectonic effects) with expected gravity change-rates, time constants and corresponding wavelengths, show that an improvement is attainable and that signals invisible to past satellites could be detected by exploiting the cold atom technology.