With an ambitious idea to create a better understanding of the Earth, the European space agency started the Copernicus program, ‘Europe’s eye on the earth’ they christened it. Copernicus is an earth observation program designed to capture prompt, correct, and easily accessible information about the planet. The information will be used to help understand and reduce the impacts of climate change as well as ensuring the security of the human race.

In partnership with the ESA, the initiative headed by the European Commission developed a new family of satellites, the Sentinels, three complete twin satellite constellations. The first pair, Sentinel 1A and 1B were launched in April 2014, and April 2016 respectively, and to date are the only Synthetic Aperture Radar satellites. The second pair was Sentinel 2A and 2B, launched in June 2015 and March 2017, respectively, delivering high-resolution images for land services. They also generate images that can be seen by the human eye and show fascinating images such as algae blooms, lakes, and ocean vegetation. The third launch sent the two Sentinel-3 satellites into orbit in February 2016 and April 2018. This pair supply data relevant to services for the ocean and land. All three satellite constellations are in orbit. With the addition of the final single satellite, the Sentinel-5P, in October 2017, developed to reduce data gaps between Envisat, particularly the Sciamachy instrument, the Copernicus program was complete.

ESA’s Sentinel-1 radar satellite, a Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite, can see at night and through clouds, providing millimetre accuracy when measuring elevation. It is composed of two separate satellites 1A and 1B, that generate data from the radar that requires rigorous analysis and interpretation but provides a whole new perspective on the world that helps us plan for the future.

Both satellites serve the same purpose and have the same equipment but having two means more frequent updates by creating higher revisit times. Also, since they see well even through clouds, day, or night, they can operate and give accurate results even during harsh weather conditions, unlike optical satellites, hindered by clouds.

The S-1 satellite houses the C-SAR instrument, which allows it to offer reliable wide-range monitoring, which also has shorter revisit times. The C-band imaging system, also included in the S-1 satellite, operates in four exclusive imaging modes, with different resolutions, down to 5m, and up to 400km.

The Copernicus program has provided vast amounts of data. This information is sent back to Earth for backend processing. The results of the research are intended to benefit the environment. The information collected from the data obtained and analysed by the satellites is used to make improvements and provide insight into many critical global issues, including climate change, civil security, land management, the marine environment, emergency response, and the Earth’s atmospheric conditions.

The results gleaned from Copernicus will surely influence the future of the human race. The European space agency is contributing by providing a proven framework for developing real-time systems for use by the community, which should lead to further investments into future generations of the system. ESA’s 30 years’ worth of expertise in space program development and management contribute to the Copernicus program’s success.

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