Despite being in orbit for less than two months, the ESA's Sentinel-1A satellite is already showing its worth in the humanitarian sphere by aiding with relief efforts in the Balkans, where flood waters are estimated to have killed dozens, leaving thousands more displaced.
Whilst not yet technically operational, the satellite was targeted to survey the heavily-flooded region using its radar imaging system, allowing the new data to be integrated with existing flood maps created by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS). The data will aid emergency relief services to create a more unified picture of the surrounding area, allowing them to pinpoint population centers most in need of support and expediting the deployment of resources.
Sentinel-1A is only one small part of the planned Copernicus mission, which upon completion will be comprised of six constellations of two satellites, each fitted with a unique suit of sensors allowing the program to capture a comprehensive field of data on our planet. The Copernicus program has a number of goals extending beyond humanitarian purposes, with the overriding aim of monitoring the global environment in order to better understand, and ultimately mitigate climate change.
Flood map of the village of Balatun in northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, created with data from Sentinel-1A (Image: ESA/European Commission)
One strength of Sentinel-1A is its ability to pierce through cloud cover and rain to image the terrain below, even at night. With many natural disaster scenarios, such as the typhoon that struck the Philippines in November 2013, relief efforts are hampered by both geographical and meteorological conditions. Sentinel-1A bypasses these obstacles, using its radar imaging system to expedite search and rescue operations regardless of the weather on the ground.
It is the hope of the ESA that methods of surveillance such as those boasted by the Sentinel-1A satellite will be the key to limiting the loss of life which inevitably follows in the wake of these devastating natural disasters.