From short-term weather predictions to long-term global climate monitoring, today, Earth observation satellites are at the forefront of monitoring the planet. At Airbus, we not only build many of these satellites but transform geospatial data into actionable insight to help fight climate change.
A Driving force for Copernicus
Copernicus is the world’s most ambitious Environment and Climate monitoring programme. It comprises satellites for “in-situ” measurement and derived “services” addressing six specific topics: oceans, atmosphere, climate change, land, security and management of emergency situations.
Airbus plays a crucial role in constructing the satellites and instruments for the Copernicus programme:
- Developing and building the radar instrument for Sentinel-1
- Prime contractor for Sentinel-2 and a spectral mode observations instrument
- Designing and building the microwave radiometer (MWR) onboard Sentinel-3
- Designing and building the satellite and instrument for Sentinel-5 Precursor (5P)
- Prime contractor for the two spectrometers on Sentinel-4
- Prime contractor for the Sentinel-5 imaging spectrometer
- Prime contractor for Sentinel-6
- Prime contractor for CRISTAL
- Prime contractor for LSTM
- Building radars for ROSE-L
A closer look
The twin Sentinel-1 satellites are designed to provide radar-based Earth observation imagery, which is significantly higher in quality than imagery from predecessor missions.
The first of these satellites – Sentinel-1A – was launched in 2014, followed two years later by Sentinel-1B. Two more satellites are in production.
Airbus is prime contractor for this two-satellite mission. Sentinel-2A was delivered to orbit in 2015, while its Sentinel-2B counterpart was launched in 2017. Two more satellites are in production.
The extracted data is primarily used for monitoring natural disasters (floods, forest fires, landslides, erosion) and in the fields of land use (soil sealing, spatial planning, forestry management), humanitarian aid, as well as for coastal monitoring.
Sentinel-3 is dedicated to oceanography and vegetation monitoring. The two satellite components – Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B – were launched in 2016 and 2018, respectively. A further two satellites are in production.Airbus supplies this mission’s Microwave Radiometer – which determines the amount of humidity contained in the path of the radar pulses – as well as a number of satellite subsystems.
The Sentinel-4 mission will concentrate on services that include analysing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and monitoring air quality. Its primary task is to measure concentrations of aerosols, trace gases and cloud cover in the lower troposphere.
Airbus is prime contractor for the development and construction of its two spectrometers.
Launched in 2017, Sentinel-5 Precursor (Sentinel-5P) is the first satellite dedicated to monitoring atmospheric chemistry for the Copernicus programme.
Sentinel-5P ensures the continuity of data to monitor the ozone hole and tropospheric pollution. Sentinel-5P is filling the gap between current atmospheric capabilities from polar Earth orbit and the launch of Sentinel-5.
The high-precision Sentinel-5 instrument will monitor Earth’s atmosphere globally and daily by taking measurements of trace gases and aerosols that have an impact on the climate and air quality. Sentinel-5 will be installed on an Airbus-built MetOp Second Generation satellite and fly in a roughly 800-kilometre polar orbit around the Earth.
Sentinel-6 is a mission to carry out high-precision measurements of ocean surface topography.
The satellite measures its distance to the ocean surface with an accuracy of a few centimetres and uses this data to map surface topography globally, repeating the cycle every 10 days. The measurements are vital for modelling the oceans and predicting rises in sea levels.
Looking to the future
In 2020, ESA approved additional missions to expand the capabilities of the Copernicus programme.
CRISTAL: Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter
The two Airbus-built CRISTAL spacecraft will monitor sea-ice thickness and overlying snow depth using dual-frequency radar altimeter and microwave radiometer technology from Airbus.
The data will support maritime operations in polar oceans and contribute to a better understanding of climate processes. CRISTAL will also support applications related to coastal and inland waters and the observation of ocean topography.
LSTM: Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring
The LSTM mission will help farmers achieve sustainable agricultural production at field-scale in a world of increasing water scarcity. The two satellites will be able to identify the temperatures of individual fields and image the Earth every three days at 50 m resolution. This is about 400 times more detail than is currently acquired from space.
Airbus is prime contractor for this next generation satellite, including its high spatial-temporal resolution thermal infrared sensor.
ROSE-L: L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar
Since longer L-band signals can penetrate through many natural materials – such as vegetation, dry snow and ice – the ROSE-L mission will complement the information gathered by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 C-band radar mission – supporting forest management, precision farming and food security and ocean monitoring.
The radar antenna will be the largest planar antenna ever built measuring an impressive 11 metres by 3.6 metres.
Taking weather to the next level
Airbus Defence and Space is prime contractor for the Metop (Meteorological Operational Polar) series of metrological satellites and also built the SEVIRI instrument flying on the spacecraft as well as Aeolus, the first spacecraft capable of performing global wind-component profile observations, daily and close to real time.
Accurate numerical weather models are needed to help predict the changing climate, and the Metop programme – a collaboration between the European-based EUMETSAT satellite agency, the European Space Agency (ESA), France’s CNES space agency, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – has improved the accuracy of weather forecasting, including extending short-term forecasts by one day.
The first low-earth orbiting meteorology satellite for EUMETSAT, Metop-A carries 12 scientific instruments; two of them, the Microwave Humidity Sounder (MHS) and the Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT), were built by Airbus. Launched in 2006 as Europe’s first polar orbiting weather satellite, Metop-A provides high precision weather data that helps businesses, farmers and security organisations. As its orbit is significantly closer to Earth than those of the geostationary satellites, the observation data provided by Metop-A and its successors is much more detailed in comparison. Having exceeded its original five-year design lifespan, Metop-A continues to collect data and will remain in orbit until 2022.
Replacing Metop-A as the prime operational weather satellite in April 2013, the identical Metop-B ensures continuous service for a further five years. In September 2012, Metop-B, the second spacecraft in the series, was launched and operates in tandem with Metop-A. The two satellites fly the same orbit, half an orbit apart, to better observe rapid atmosphere evolutions. The duo has increased the wealth of data even further, collecting data from low Earth orbit essential for accurate forecasts up to 12 days ahead. Metop-A and Metop-B both feature a receiver to relay signals sent by persons in distress.
The third satellite, Metop-C, was orbited in November 2018 aboard a Soyuz launch vehicle – continuing the time series of data initiated by Metop-A, and allowing a long-term outlook that is critically important for climate monitoring. Unlike the earlier versions, Metop-C carries 10 scientific instruments, including the Microwave Humidity Sounder (MHS) and the Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT), which were built by Airbus.
Airbus has been selected to design and build the second generation of Meteorological Operational (Metop-SG) satellites. Metop-SG comprises two series of satellites, with three units in each series. The Satellite A series focuses on optical instruments and atmospheric sounders, while the Satellite B series will carry microwave instruments. Metop-SG will further improve weather forecasting and climate research, using 10 different instruments, covering ultraviolet, visible, infrared and microwave spectral bands.
The Airbus-built Aeolus is Europe’s wind sensing satellite and the first spacecraft capable of performing global wind-component profile observations – daily, and close to real-time. Aeolus provides reliable wind-profile information on a global scale. Such data are needed by meteorologists to continuously improve the accuracy of weather forecasts, and helps climatologists better understand the dynamics of Earth’s atmosphere.