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Rapid response to natural disaster: ESA Sentinel-1 will launch new capability

Next week, on 3 April, a new era will begin in remote-sensing-aided disaster response. The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that the Sentinel-1A radar satellite will be launched from the European spaceport in French Guiana.

Sentinel-1, the first in the family of
Copernicus satellites, will be used to
care for many aspects of our environment,
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
assist in emergency response. Photo:
ESA/ATG media lab
Sentinel-1 is designed for responding rapidly to aid emergencies and disasters such as flooding and earthquakes. The first satellite carries an advanced radar sensor to image Earth’s surface through cloud and rain and regardless of time of day.

Each Sentinel mission is based on a constellation of two satellites to provide robust datasets for Copernicus Services, the new name for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program, previously known as GMES.

The initiative is headed by the European Commission in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). It will 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. The first of the initial two-satellite mission, Sentinel-1A will be joined in orbit next year by Sentinel-1B.

Sentinel-1 carries a 12 m-long advanced synthetic aperture radar (SAR), working in C-band. Radar data can be used for monitoring land deformation. The “radar interferometry'” remote-sensing technique combines two or more radar images over the same area to detect changes occurring between acquisitions. Interferometry allows for the monitoring of even slight ground movement – down to a few mm – across wide areas.

As well as being a valuable resource for urban planners, this type of information is essential for monitoring shifts from earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic uplift.

Sentinel-1A being prepared for launch at
Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French
Guiana. Photo: ESA-B v/d Elst
ESA is developing five families of Sentinel missions specifically for Copernicus. The Sentinels will provide a unique set of observations, starting with the all-weather, day and night radar images from Sentinel-1 to be used for land and ocean services.

Sentinel-2 will deliver high-resolution optical images for land services and Sentinel-3 will provide data for services relevant to the ocean and land.

Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-5 will provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring from geostationary and polar orbits, respectively.

SPIE Proceedings have reported extensively on instrumentation developed for the Sentinel missions, including 14 new papers published in November 2013 from conferences on Earth Observing Systems; Remote Sensing for Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Hydrology; Sensors, Systems, and Next-Generation Satellites; and SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) Image Analysis, Modeling, and Techniques.

ESA's Portal will cover the launch live, providing the videostream and updates of the launch at: www.esa.int/esalive and www.livestream.com/eurospaceagency.

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