Europe launches satellite to give Earth observation color vision

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2015 11:47 AM

By Maria Sheahan

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Europe will on Monday will launch a satellite that will give its multibillion-euro Copernicus Earth observation project "color vision," delivering valuable images that could help forecast crop harvests and respond to humanitarian crises.

The Sentinel-2a satellite, the second of a planned seven-member network, is to be launched aboard a Vega rocket from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana at 9:52 p.m. EDT (0152 GMT) Tuesday.

From its orbital perch 488 miles (786 km) above Earth, the spacecraft will collect environmental data intended to help policymakers craft legislation and react to emergencies, such as natural disasters.

The Copernicus project, for which the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA) have committed funding of around 8.4 billion euros ($9.46 billion) until 2020, is described by ESA as the most ambitious Earth observation program to date.

ESA launched the first satellites, Sentinel-1a, in April 2014, carrying radar equipment that can monitor sea ice, oil spills and land use even when skies are cloudy.

Sentinel-2a, which will operate in tandem with another satellite to be launched in late 2016, carries high-tech imaging equipment that can capture a wider range of colors than other Earth observation spacecraft, such as France’s Spot 5 or the U.S. Landsat satellites.

"We have not just all the colors that are visible, but also infrared, which is very good for monitoring vegetation," Volker Liebig, director of ESA's Earth Observation program, told Reuters.

Sentinel-2a will also cover an 180-mile (290-km) swath of Earth and revisit the same point on Earth every 10 days, providing more up-to-date images than have been available, at a higher resolution of 10 meters.

The images will be used for a wide variety of programs, including locating sites for refugee camps in humanitarian crises, monitoring the destruction or growth of forests and estimating fertilizer and water needs for efficient crop production.

Liebig said ESA was working actively with international programs that seek to forecast harvests so the United Nations World Food Program can anticipate need and avoid shortages, which can cause spikes in food prices.

"When you have the information two months in advance, you can organize transports. If it's only two weeks, it's very difficult," he said.

Sentinel-2 is designed and built by a consortium of about 60 companies led by Airbus Defence and Space.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)