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Fourth EU Climate Change Satellite Launches Successfully

Just days after the signing of Paris Agreement on climate change, the fourth in a new series of Earth observation satellites was launched from French Guiana.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully blasted a Sentinel satellite into space on Monday (25 April) to provide more radar data for the European Union’s Copernicus environmental programme.

Volker Liebig, ESA’s director of Earth observation programmes, said:“Given that Antarctica is heading into winter now and daylight hours are getting shorter, radar images are vital to see what changes are taking place,” highlighting the satellite’s polar ice monitoring capabilities.

During the launch, the satellite’s 12 meter long radar antenna and two 10 meter long solar wings were folded up to fit into the rocket. It took about 10 hours for the satellite’s solar wings and radar to open up. ESA is now operating the satellite from its control centre in Germany.

Responding to Disasters

The satellite joins a constellation of Earth orbiting EU satellites that provide information for numerous services, from monitoring ice in polar seas to tracking land subsidence, and for responding to disasters such as floods.

Europe is currently building seven satellite constellations in space to provide its Copernicus programme with data, and Monday’s launch completes the first in a series of seven constellations.

On the day after the launch, it was announced that EU climate innovation initiative Climate-KIC and the Copernicus programme are looking at ways to accelerate the use of EU satellite data for the development of climate change solutions.

The first results of the collaboration will be announced in November at the COP22 climate summit in Marrakesh, Morocco. The two organisations hope to work together to see how they can get the Copernicus data – which is freely available – to entrepreneurs, universities, cities and regions across Europe, faster.

Antartica Ice Shelf

Each of the seven Sentinel missions has different monitoring capabilities and is based on a constellation of two satellites. The satellite launched this week, Sentinel 1B, joins its identical twin Sentinel 1A in orbit, completing the first constellation.

“We have seen some marvellous results from Sentinel 1A. Only two weeks ago, for example, it captured images of large icebergs breaking away from Antarctica’s Nansen ice shelf,” Liebig said.

“With Sentinel 1B in orbit we will receive double the amount of data and achieve global coverage in six days,” he said.

Forest Management

Climate-KIC already works with satellite data in areas such as forest management. Forests absorb carbon and play a crucial role in controlling the amount of the greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere.

With partners such as Airbus Defence and Space, Climate-KIC is developing technologies to provide forest managers with information on the size and structure of their forests, and analysis of forests’ evolution over time and the resulting impact on carbon emissions.

Several businesses that are commercialising satellite data have also successfully exited Climate-KIC’s start-up accelerator. One such company is UK-based Rezatec, which analyses Earth data for businesses ranging from insurers to farmers.

Netherlands-based Viridian Raven uses Sentinel data to help protect forests against bark beetle outbreaks.

Miniature Satellite

This week’s launch also provided an opportunity to give other smaller satellites a ride into space.

Three miniature satellites – known as CubeSats – were developed by teams of university students from the University of Liege, Belgium, e-st@r-II from the Polytechnic of Turin, Italy, and AAUSat-4 from Aalborg University, Denmark.

The collaboration between ESA and the universities “is helping to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers by transferring ESA know-how in designing, building, testing, launching and operating satellites,” said Piero Galeone, who heads ESA’s Tertiary Education Unit.

Understanding what data is available and how it can be used it is also crucial. The collaboration between Climate-KIC and Copernicus also looks at how more potential users of satellite data and associated information services can be reached.

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