To Copernicus & beyond!

Venue in Milan for ESA Living Planet Symposium 2019

In the second part of our ESA Living Planet Symposium review, we’re going to concentrate on the Copernicus Programme as it’s one of the main factors driving innovation in the Earth Observation industry at the moment. Key sessions during the week were ‘Copernicus Programme Present and Future’ alongside ‘The Copernicus High Priority Candidate Missions’.

At the start of the first session Mauro Facchini, Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs at the European Commission reviewed the current Copernicus programme. He stated that the use of the data is dramatic with a recent market survey revealing:

  • 72% of Earth Observation (EO) companies are using Copernicus EO data;
  • 38% of EO companies using Copernicus services;
  • over 300 000 registered users;
  • over 28 TB data have been downloaded.

He stressed the importance of the evolution of the programme, but that it will also continue to be based around full, open and free access to data and information for public administration and policy activities.

Simon Jutz from the European Space Agency (ESA) discussed the space infrastructure to support the Copernicus missions. He explained that the plan for each Copernicus mission is always to have at least two, and ideally three, satellites in orbit. Currently, Sentinel’s 1, 2 and 3 have A & B in orbit with plans to launch the third C mission in the near future. The D units will be kept in storage until A, B or C no longer work.

Sentinel-2 Model

Henri Laur, also from ESA, went on to review the status and near-term evolution of the Sentinel missions.

  • Sentinel-2 is now providing 5-day repeat coverage globally, except for Antarctica and some islands, and the Level 2 product is being systematically generated with improvements in Level 1C georeferencing & Level 2 atmospheric correction foreseen.
  • Sentinel-3 A&B have been operating as a constellation since March 2019, operating at an offset of 140 degrees due to the needs for altimetry. The calibration and validation (Cal/Val) tandem phase having operated from July to October last year. In terms of products from this mission, the Aerosol Optical Depth and Fire related products, plus a Level 1 synergy product, are due to be released in Autumn 2019, alongside altimetry (SRAL Level 1) products tailored to specific applications.
  • There is a plan to increase the Sentinel-2 & Sentinel-3 coverage by reducing the Solar Zenith Angle – the height of the sun in sky required to process images – meaning that the satellites will be able to process more data at higher latitudes.
  • Sentinel-5P NO2 products have been released since April 2018 with aerosol layer height and ozone profile products due in 2019.

EUMETSAT’s engagement, addressed by Dany Provost, EUMETSAT includes both support for missions (Such as Sentinel-3 and 5P) alongside improved near-real-time downlink via EUMETCAST Europe and Africa.

Art by Shane Sutton exhibited at from ESA Living Planet 2019

The Copernicus High Priority Candidate Missions were initially overviewed by Guido Levrini from ESA, with follow-on sessions of speakers providing greater detail. The highlights of forthcoming missions for me were:

  • Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission for the Environment (CHIME) – Hyperspectral mission operating from the visible to Short Wave Infra-Red, 400-2500 nm, as a contiguous spectrum. The primary goals will be food security, agriculture, raw materials and soil properties (topsoil mineralogy, moisture, organic carbon content, soil salinity, soil quality index and soil erosion). It will operate in a sun-synchronous orbit, with a local crossing time between 1030 to 1130 in the morning with a revisit time of 10-15 days and spatial resolution of 20-30 m.
  • Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer (CIMR) – Passive Microwave Radiometer whose main priority will be sea ice concentration and Sea Surface Temperature (SST), with a goal of 4 km spatial resolution.  It will also measure salinity and soil moisture, and as it’s focused on the Arctic where there will be up to 8 passes in 24 hours and no hole at the pole, with global coverage within 2-days.
  • Land Surface Temperature Monitoring (LSTM) Mission – operating with 3-5 thermal bands at a spatial resolution of 30-50 m to complement Sentinel-2, it will ideally have a daily revisit (but with a 3-day minimum), with an uncertainty goal of 1 Kelvin. Its overpass time will be early afternoon, around 1300 when water stress is at its highest.
  • Radar Observing System for Europe at L-band (ROSE-L): L-Band SAR that will operate at a frequency of 23 cm; in comparison C-band is 5 cm. This will allow it to detect ground motion information under vegetation, inundation/flooding below vegetation plus high spatial resolution soil moisture information. Also, it will be sensitive to different crop types and land cover types and provide an improved capability to calculate above-ground forest biomass for forests and have an AIS onboard to support maritime operations.

These sessions, in particular, demonstrated how exciting the future of our industry will be and how Europe and ESA will be forefront.

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