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VP Tajani: The countdown to the launch of the first Copernicus satellite has begun

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VP Antonio Tajani presented Sentinel-1A, the first satellite of the EU Copernicus Programme that will fly in outer space providing continuous, systematic, highly reliable radar imaging of the Earth.

The European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani presented, in Rome, Sentinel-1A, the first satellite of the EU Copernicus Programme that will fly in outer space. The satellite has been assembled in Rome and will soon be transported to Cannes for pre-launch testing. The launch will likely take place in April or May of 2014 on a SOYUZ rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. Once it is operational, Sentinel 1A will circle the Earth in Low Earth Orbit (at an altitude of around 700 km) and will provide continuous, systematic, highly reliable radar imaging of the Earth. It will operate day and night, sweeping the whole globe, imaging landmasses, coastal zones and shipping routes at high resolution. Seeing through darkness, rain and clouds, it will monitor sea ice and the Arctic environment; survey marine oil-spills; and detect ships in coastal zones for maritime security, helping prevent tragic boat accidents like the one off the island of Lampedusa. It will also spur the growth of the observation service industry, contribute to climate monitoring, as well as provide support in emergency and crisis situations.

Unleashing Copernicus’s full potential

Europe's Earth observation system Copernicus is already partly operational - mainly through data acquired from existing satellite missions and sensors on the ground, at sea and in the air - and is already providing the world with great benefits. When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines Islands on November 8th, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service was immediately activated and delivered the first damage assessment maps.

However, the full benefits of Copernicus will only be reached with the deployment of dedicated Copernicus satellites which will provide reliable, systematic space-based observations for all of its services. As part of the programme, six families of dedicated satellite missions, the so-called Sentinels, will be launched between 2014 and 2021. Each one will provide different types of observations to serve the needs of the various Copernicus information services and the wide variety of interested data users such as the emerging European observation service industry. The first of the satellite missions, Sentinel-1 will also considerably improve our ability to detect ships in coastal zones because it will see ships at all times: through rain, clouds and darkness.

The benefits arising from a fully-fledged operational Copernicus programme through 2030 are estimated at some € 30 billion. The estimated downstream market potential turnover attributable to Copernicus is expected to be € 1.8 billion by 2030.  A number of non-space sectors will benefit from Copernicus, including water transport, oil and gas, non-life insurance, renewable power generation and agriculture.

Sentinel-1 to see through darkness and clouds

The first Copernicus mission, Sentinel-1 is composed of a constellation of two polar-orbiting satellites, Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B, which will share the same orbital plane and operate day and night, performing so-called Synthetic Aperture Radar imaging. After the launch of Sentinel-1A expected in the spring of 2014, Sentinel-1B is expected to follow in late 2015. The advantage of radar imaging, as compared to optical sensors that some other satellites use, is the following:

  1. By using microwave frequencies, radar satellites can see through clouds and storms, acquiring imagery regardless of the weather.
  2. A radar sensor carries its own illumination source, in the form of radio waves transmitted by an antenna. This means that the radar can be used with equal effectiveness at any time of the day and night.

Sentinel-1 services will include applications such as:

  1. Monitoring sea ice zones and the Arctic environment,
  2. Surveillance of the marine environment, including oil-spills and ship detection for maritime security,
  3. Monitoring land surface motion risks,
  4. Mapping of land surfaces: forest, water and soil (e.g. for sustainable agriculture),
  5. Mapping in support of humanitarian aid in crisis situations,
  6. Climate monitoring. 

Sentinel-1 data products will be made available systematically and free of charge to all data users including the general public, scientific and commercial users. Radar data will be delivered within an hour of reception for Near Real-Time (NRT) emergency response.

Preparation for the launch

Sentinel-1A is a product of cooperation between several partners. As with all the Sentinels, it is the European Space Agency (ESA) who has developed it, including its design and procurement. Thales Alenia Space Italy is the prime contractor for the satellite, using a wide range of industrial subcontractors for the individual components.

After the recent success of the solar wings tests and the integration of the big radar antenna, the production phase of the Sentinel-1A satellite is now complete (apart from an optional component, the so-called Optical Communication Payload). The satellite will soon be transported to Thales Alenia Space site in Cannes, France, where it will undergo a very thorough functional testing and environmental testing and review regime.

At the end of the testing phase, the satellite will be transferred to the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. After the so-called launch preparation campaign in Kourou, it will be Arianespace that will launch it on a SOYUZ rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, expected in April-May 2014. And it will be again ESA that will commission it for full operations and eventually operate it on behalf of the European Union.

Background information: what is Copernicus?

The Copernicus Earth observation programme is a complex set of systems which collects information from multiple sources: earth observation satellites as well as ground-based, airborne and sea-borne sensors. It integrates and processes all this information, providing users with reliable and up-to-date information through a set of services related to environmental and security issues.

Its services address six thematic areas: land, marine, atmosphere, climate change, emergency management and security. These services are provided by operators hired by the Commission, and support a wide range of applications, including environmental protection, management of urban areas, regional and local planning, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, health, transport, climate change, sustainable development, civil protection and tourism.

Two of the six Copernicus services, the Emergency Management service and the Land Monitoring service are already established and operational; the Atmosphere and the Marine Environment monitoring services will switch to operational mode in the first quarter of 2015. The Climate Change monitoring service as well as the Security service will follow later on.

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