The first colour-vision satellite of the European Earth-monitoring Copernicus constellation has reached orbit.
The Sentinel-2A is the first of two identical satellites equipped with optical multispectral instruments that will provide a unique capability to monitor crops, water pollution and natural disasters such as floods, landslides and volcanic eruptions.
The satellite, launched aboard the European Space Agency’s Vega rocket from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guyana, early on Tuesday morning, is the second of 20 satellites that will make up the Copernicus constellation.
It will complement the Sentinel-1A satellite, in orbit since April 2014, which provides round the clock images of the Earth’s surface in all weather conditions via its radar instrument.
"Sentinel-2A will support important areas of benefit to society such as food security and forest monitoring,” said Volker Liebig, Esa's director of earth-observation programmes.
"Its combination of wide swaths and short revisit time will allow users to view land change and vegetation growth with unprecedented accuracy. By frequently revisiting areas, it will allow a new generation of operational products, from land-cover and change-detection maps, disaster maps and leaf area index to chlorophyll content and other bio-geophysical variables."
The 1.1 tonne satellite with an expected seven-year life span also carries a laser communication terminal that will form a part of the planned European Space Data Highway. The new data-relay system will enable instant accessibility of satellite data via geostationary satellites without the need to wait for the satellites to download their images when passing over ground stations. The system will be a major asset especially in time-critical applications such as environmental monitoring, emergency response and security missions.
Orbiting at 786km above the Earth’s surface, Sentinel 2A will provide images with a resolution of up to 10 metres and cover areas some 290 metres in diameter in one take.
A sister satellite, Sentinel-2B, will be launched in 2016 into the same orbit. The two satellites will maintain a 180 degree angle between them. It will take the two spacecraft five days to cover the entire Earth between the latitudes of 56° south and 84° north.
Both satellites have been developed by Airbus Defence and Space. The programme is being overseen by the European Space Agency and the European Commission.
Sentinel-2A is expected to start commercial operation in about three months.
Six families of Sentinel satellites will make up the core of EU's Copernicus environmental monitoring network. Data from the network will be available on a free and open basis.