New European satellite to monitor the environment and natural disasters

European satellite

Europe’s new satellite will monitor sea ice, oil spills and land use. Courtesy of: ESA–S. Corvaja, 2014

A new European satellite will soon be helping track sea ice, oil spills, land use and natural disasters including floods and earthquakes, having launched this week from the continent’s spaceport in French Guiana.

The satellite is the first of Europe’s multibillion-euro Copernicus Earth observation project, which aims to supply valuable images of environmental issues, natural disasters or even a plane crash.

The project aims to supply data to help policymakers develop environmental legislation and react to emergencies such as natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

It has been described as the most ambitious earth observation programme to date, with the European Union and the European Space Agency having committed around €8.4 billion ($11.5 billion) to 2020.

Chris Reynolds, director of the Irish Coast Guard in Dublin, said authorities needed more satellite images and data delivered as quickly as possible to catch “the bad guys”, such as people who purposely dump oil from their ships into the sea.

“At the moment, it’s very difficult to find out who has the data and to know what level of trust you can place in it,” he said at Thursday’s event.

Copernicus also offers new business opportunities.

Images can be downloaded free of charge, meaning companies can then use them to help deliver data to farmers on soil moisture or pest infestation, help oil companies decide where to drill new wells or make it easier for insurers to assess the risk of costly floods and fires.

Sentinel-1a, which will operate in tandem with a second satellite to be launched next year, Sentinel-1b, has high-tech instruments that will allow it to record radar images of Earth’s surface, even when the skies are cloudy or dark. As part of the Copernicus program, there will be 17 launches over the next decade.

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