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Sentinel-2B completes colour vision mission of Earth

Europe´s Copernicus programme has got its second eye with the successful launch of its Sentinel-2B remote sensing satellite. On Tuesday, 7 March a Vega launcher successfully took off from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, carrying the satellite developed and built under the industrial leadership of Airbus for the European Space Agency (ESA).

Following three days of intensive work following the launch, mission control declared the newly launched Sentinel-2B satellite fit and ready for commissioning. The Sentinel-2 mission is based on a constellation of two identical satellites, Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B, and aims to support land observation, food security, change detection maps, disaster relief support and climate change monitoring.

Sentinel-2A was launched in 2015 into the same orbit, but 180° apart.  Every five days, the satellites will jointly cover all land surfaces, large islands, and inland and coastal waters between latitudes 84° South and 84° North, optimising global coverage and data delivery. The new 1.1 ton satellite has been designed to operate for at least 7 years and 3 months in a polar orbit at 786 kilometres above the Earth.


Sentinel-2 global coverage. Copyright: ESA/ATG medialab

“With this launch we are taking another step toward advancing the Copernicus programme, which is the most sophisticated Earth observation system in the world. And we are planning to add two more satellites to the constellation in the next months: with Sentinel-5P and Sentinel-3B,” said ESA Director General Jan Woerner.

The Sentinel-2 mission has the distinct capabilities of contributing to the management of food security by providing information for the agricultural sector. Sentinel-2, with its multispectral instrument, is the first optical Earth observation mission of its kind to include three bands in the ‘red edge’, which provide key information on vegetation state. Sentinel-2 is designed to provide images that can be used to distinguish between different crop types as well as data on numerous plant indices, such as leaf area index, leaf chlorophyll content and leaf water content – all of which are essential to accurately monitor plant growth.

This kind of information will help informed decisions to be made – from deciding how much water or fertiliser is needed for a maximum harvest to forming strategies to address climate change.

Agricultural monitoring in Spain. Copyright: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA.

Sentinel-2 also maps the condition and changes to land surfaces as well as monitoring forests worldwide. The mission provides information about the pollution of lakes and coastal waters, whilst images of floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides aid the production of disaster maps and facilitate humanitarian aid activities.

The imaging instrument uses 13 spectral channels, ranging from the visible to the infrared, to deliver high-resolution multispectral images of the Earth’s surface with a resolution of up to 10 metres at an image width of 290 kilometres. This extremely large scanning width results in data coverage of the entire Earth relatively quickly, while at the same time, the advanced instrument provides an unprecedented level of detail.

Sentinel-2 is also capable of using the European Data Relay System (EDRS). EDRS is a network of laser communication payloads on geostationary satellites and low Earth orbit satellites. The system, also known as the “SpaceDataHighway” is being developed by Airbus for ESA (European Space Agency) and provides secure and fast communication services. EDRS ensures the timely availability of data particularly for time-critical applications such as environmental monitoring, emergency response and security missions. Sentinel-1 and -2 satellites are the first observation satellites equipped with Airbus´s laser communication terminal. EDRS-A, the first dedicated relay satellite for the SpaceDataHighway programme was launched on 30 January 2016. The SpaceDataHighway has been open for traffic since November 2016.

To ensure data continuity two further optical satellites, Sentinel-2C and -2D, are being constructed in the cleanrooms of Airbus and will be ready for launch between 2020 and 2021.

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