ESA's Sentinel-2A satellite has arrived safely in French Guiana, ahead of its June 12 launch atop a Vega rocket. It was carried in the belly of an enormous Russian-made Antonov cargo plane, and protected within a specially-constructed air conditioned habitat. Once operational, the satellite will represent a cornerstone of the agency's Copernicus program, which is striving to revolutionize how we observe and understand our environment, and how we may be able to tackle the detrimental effects of climate change.
The satellite weighs in at 1,140 kg (2,513 lb), with a length of 3.4 m (11.2 ft) and a width of roughly 1.8 m (5.9 ft). Drawing power from a single segmented solar panel, Sentinel-2A is expected to have a life span of at least seven years, however the onboard batteries and propellent are sufficient to keep the satellite alive for a maximum 12-year operational period. During this time, Sentinel-2A will operate in a 786-km (488-mile) Polar, Sun synchronous orbit. While traversing this orbit, the satellite will observe a wide swath of land 290 km (180 miles) wide between 84°N and 56°S.
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ESA's newest satellite carries a single multispectral instrument capable of returning images in 13 spectral channels, ranging from the visible and near infrared, to the shortwave infrared. Importantly, the spectral channels include three in the "red-edge," which are vital for the in-depth observation of Earth's vegetation. Sentinel-2A will eventually be paired with an identical sister satellite – Sentinel-2B, which together will be capable of imaging the Earth within five days between the latitudes 84°N and 56°S.
For operational ease, Sentinel-2A has been designed to function with a high level of automation, allowing it to run for up to 15 days without the need for human intervention. The satellite's cutting-edge high-resolution and novel multispectral capabilities will allow the newest addition to the Copernicus program to be put to use in a number of diverse areas.
ESA's newest satellite was delivered to French Guiana via a massive Antonov cargo plane (Photo: ESA–C. Wildner)
The primary goal of the satellite is to observe plant growth and health on a worldwide scale. This will be achieved by measuring chlorophyll levels and leaf water content of vegetation in order to determine salient characteristics. Such information is vital for efficient planning in the agricultural sector, which is being put under ever greater strain by a burgeoning population. In addition to this vital function, Sentinel-2A will have the capacity to map alterations in terrain over time. Changes in the landscape could occur either naturally, be it the result of mankind or even the effects of climate change. No matter the cause, Sentinel-2A will provide insight as to how our planet is changing and evolving in the 21st century – for better, or for worse.
The ability to observe terrain in this manner could also be instrumental in providing humanitarian data to emergency services following a major natural disaster such as the earthquake of April 25 which has devastated large areas of Nepal, leaving over 3,700 people dead and many more in desperate need of help. Sentinel-2A's ability to map alterations in the terrain, coupled by a quick data delivery time of only a few hours from detection, could be pivotal in directing help to the worst affected areas, and ultimately saving lives.
Sentinel-2A will also play a role in mapping regional water pollution levels by detecting surface levels of algae and chlorophyll, as well as the turbidity, or clarity of a body of water. Sentinel-2A is something of a Swiss army satellite, and an excellent example of how the space industry is improving our understanding of the environment vital to our continued survival.
The following video courtesy of ESA shows the Sentinel-2A satellite in orbit around Earth.