The EU is set to launch the first satellite of its ambitious civilian Earth-monitoring programme, Copernicus, on April 3. The Sentinel-1A satellite will carry an advanced radar to scan Earth’s surface in all weather conditions and regardless of whether it is day or night.
Copernicus, a joint programme between the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA), is meant to “provide accurate, timely and easily accessible information to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security,” according to the ESA.
The Sentinel-1A satellite (and its twin Sentinel-1B, which will be launched next year) will be used for a number of information-gathering activities – from detecting and tracking oil spills and mapping sea ice to monitoring movement in land surfaces and mapping changes in the way land is used.
It will also play a crucial role in providing timely information to help respond to natural disasters and help humanitarian efforts.
“There is no Earth observation project as big as this,” according to Anne Glover, EU chief scientific adviser. “It will give European scientists and European citizens the ability to understand precisely what is happening on our planet – from the poles, to the oceans, to the land,” she told BBC News.
Sentinel-1A has been at the launch site in French Guiana for more than a month and gone through a series of stringent tests. It will be put in orbit using a Russian-built Soyuz rocket, making it the seventh mission using Soyuz carriers to off from the European spaceport in Kourou.
Lift-off is scheduled for 9.02pm GMT (past midnight, Bulgarian time) and will be broadcast live by the ESA. For more information, visit the ESA website.
(Artist’s impression of the Sentinel-1A satellite. Credits: ESA–P. Carril, 2014)