In 2016, the third European Sentinel satellite added to the growing array of earth-observing instruments offering greater open data based information, aimed at helping to counter environmental damage and mitigate against climate change.
The new satellite will provide useful data focused on transport, agriculture and renewable energy sources. The data generated by the family of Sentinel satellites, making up Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring network, are used worldwide and are free of charge for all users.
According to a report on the Italian Space Agency website the benefits of the satellites will also produce other kinds of tangible results, “some studies showed that Copernicus may create around 50,000 new jobs in Europe by 2030, as well as boost economic benefits by €30 million.”
The new Sentinel 3A is now the third satellite in a planned family of six, which will eventually make up the European Space Agency’s Copernicus network.
The ESA relies on the Sentinels, and contributing missions from other satellites, to provide data for monitoring the environment and supporting civil security activities. Sentinel 3A carries a series of cutting-edge sensors to do just that. “This is the third of the Sentinel satellites launched in less than two years and it is certainly a special moment. It also marks a new era for the Copernicus services, with Sentinel 3A providing a whole range of new data with unprecedented coverage of the oceans,” says the Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes, Volker Liebig.
Over oceans, it measures the temperature, colour and height of the sea surface as well as the thickness of sea ice. The information can be accessed by a wide range of research institutions, universities and environment agencies. For example, the openly available data can help monitor changes in earth’s climate and supports more hands-on applications which report marine pollution and measure biological productivity. It will support ocean forecasting services.
Over land, this innovative satellite yields further open data, monitoring wildfires, mapping the way land is used, checking vegetation health and measuring the height of rivers and lakes. In a new agreement with the ESA, US agencies can access Sentinel data. This enables data to be accessed by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Geological Survey (USGS).
All sides are committed to the principle of full, free and open access to the European Sentinel services along with the data provided by the American owned earth observation satellites supported by NASA, NOAA and USGS.
One example of this open access is the service provided by EarthExplorer, a service of the USGS. It provides online search, browse display, metadata export, and data download for earth science data from the archives of the USGS and now access to the latest data provided by the Copernicus programme.
Amongst all it can do, it helps emergency planning after earthquakes. Sentinel 3A was commissioned and launched by the ESA on 16th February 2016 and will provide a ‘bigger picture’ for the Copernicus
environment programme. The 1150 kg payload was carried into orbit aboard the Rockot launcher from Plesetsk, Russia.
The new satellite’s duties are expected to begin three months after launch. Controllers spend the initial period in orbit checking all the satellite’s equipment, making sure they are calibrated correctly before officially commissioning it for work. Like the two other Sentinels it is designed to transmit open data that provides scientists, agricultural experts and environmentalists more details on conditions here on earth.
“With the successful launch of Sentinel-3A we are now looking forward to how our teams of experts will steer this mission into its operational life – like they have done with the first two satellites of the series,” says ESA Director General Jan Woerner.
The first signal from Sentinel-3A was received just 92 minutes after launch by the Kiruna station in Sweden. Telemetry links and attitude control were then established by controllers at ESA’s ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, allowing them to monitor the health of the satellite.
“This is another demonstration of the broad range of competence we have at ESA from the early design phase until the operational mission in orbit,” says Woerner.
The ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of
Europe and the world.
The ESA describes Copernicus as the most ambitious earth observation programme to date. Its aim is to provide accurate, timely and easily accessible information to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security. Copernicus is the new name for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme, previously known as GMES.
The European Commission partners with the ESA to deliver this initiative and the ESA manages the delivery of open data from upwards of 30 satellites. Sentinel-3B, the new satellite’s twin, is
scheduled for launch in 2017.