Copernicus now monitoring borders from the skies

17 Feb 2016

The ESA’s Sentinel-3 is now in orbit, with Sentinel-3B planned for next year. Image via ESA/Pierre Carril

The third of six ESA satellites has been sent into orbit, arming the Copernicus programme with the ability to monitor population movement, as well as produce far more accurate meteorological readings.

The ESA says Sentinel-3 is “arguably the most comprehensive” addition to the Copernicus programme to date, offering the remarkable capability of scanning the planet in around 24 hours.

That means we can see events in near-real time, but the key point noted by ESA is the ability to monitor migrant flows. It took off yesterday and is now going through checks from the ground.

By measuring sea temperatures, it also will boost short-term weather forecasts and help track the impact of climate change, which is expected to trigger mass migration in coming decades.

Three more satellites are planned to launch before Copernicus is complete, with more monitoring of the health of the planet always welcome.

Now the programme can measure the temperature, colour and height of the sea surface as well as the thickness of sea ice – ignoring global warming studies for a moment, this opens the door for better handles on marine pollution and biological productivity.

Over land, it can monitor wildfires, watch land management and even check on vegetation and river health.

“With the successful launch of Sentinel-3 we are now looking forward to how our teams of experts will steer this mission into its operational life – like they have done the first two satellites of the series,” said ESA’s director-general Jan Woerner.

“This is another demonstration of the broad range of competence we have at ESA, from the early design phase until the operational mission in orbit.”

It has proved a busy week for space enthusiasts, with the launch in Japan of JAXA’s powerful X-ray telescope into orbit.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic