Europe’s gravity-measuring GOCE satellite has successfully completed its in-orbit checkout and has been transferred to operating teams, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Nov. 25.

Eight months after its launch into an exceptionally low orbit designed to better collect gravity data, the 1,052-kilogram, arrowhead-shaped Gravity Field and Ocean Circulation Explorer satellite will be operated for another 18 months from ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

GOCE managers have been able to take advantage of low solar activity to fly the spacecraft at 255 kilometers in altitude, several kilometers lower than planned, and expect to be able to collect higher-accuracy gravity data as a result.

GOCE uses small ion-electric engines to counteract the atmospheric drag that would otherwise perturb its orbit at such a low altitude.