THE HAGUE – The European Space Agency launched on Friday its Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite from the Russian cosmodrome of Plesetsk, with the aim of obtaining a better understanding of our planet’s atmospheric pollution.
The satellite constitutes the first orbital platform heralding the revolutionary Copernicus Earth observation mission that, for the first time, will map the entire Earth’s surface every 24 hours, and monitor our atmosphere in the coming years.
“Having Sentinel-5P in orbit will give us daily and global views at our atmosphere with a precision we never had before,” Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs, said in a statement.
The 820-kilogram (1,808-pound) satellite was carried into orbit on a Rockot launcher at 0927 GMT.
After separating from the upper stage, Sentinel-5P deployed its three solar panels and began communicating with Earth.
The first signal was received 93 minutes after launch, as the satellite passed over the Kiruna station in Sweden.
Telemetry links, command and control were then established at ESA’s operations center in Darmstadt, Germany.
The 3.35-meter (11-feet) high Sentinel-5P – which has a diameter of 5.63 meters (18.5 feet) – will be inserted into a polar, Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 824 kilometers (512 miles).
It is set to be in flight formation with another Earth-monitoring satellite of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – although 3.5 minutes behind – seeking operational synergies.
Its mission life will run for a minimum of seven years (on-board reserves can extend its mission to up to 10 years).
Its most valuable instrument is the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (Tropomi), which allows monitoring areas 2,600 km wide both in the ultraviolet and visible spectra, near infrared and shortwave infrared, providing global information on diverse atmospheric trace gases, aerosols and cloud distributions affecting air quality and climate.
Moments before the Sentinel-5P’s launch, Tropomi engineer Ilse Aben said that our most advanced multispectral imaging spectrometer to date would become “our eye on Earth.”
Tropomi works by observing sunlight as it is scattered back to space by Earth’s surface and atmosphere, and detects the unique fingerprints of gases in different parts of the spectrum.
Therefore, it will now become possible to accurately image levels of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide.
With its global coverage and open data policy, the mission will improve our understanding of chemical and physical atmospheric processes.
The mission was jointly developed by ESA and the Netherlands Space Office, remains under ESA management and is being funded by the ESA member states, the NSO, and the European Union.
Its prime contractors are Airbus Defense and Space UK and Netherlands, leading a total of 30 contractors.
The Sentinels are a fleet of satellites specifically designed to deliver massive data and imagery that are the backbone of the European Commission’s Copernicus program, a unique environmental monitoring project that is set to change how we manage our environment and help us understand the effects of climate change, safeguarding everyday lives.
Sentinel-5P is the first Copernicus platform dedicated to this stated mission.
In the future, the geostationary Sentinel-4 and the polar-orbiting Sentinel-5 missions will continue to expand the Sentinel-5P’s tasks.