The driving force for Copernicus

The driving force for Copernicus

A global monitoring programme

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.

Supporting Sentinel development 

A representation of an Airbus-produced Sentinel-series Earth observation satellite in orbit.

Airbus plays a crucial role in constructing the Sentinel satellites and their instruments:

  • 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 Jason-CS/ Sentinel-6
  • Prime contractor for CRISTAL
  • Prime contractor for LSTM and
  • Building radars for ROSE-L

More about the Sentinels


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.


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.

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.

Airbus supplied 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.

Sentinel-5 Precursor

Launched in 2017, Sentinel-5 Precursor (Sentinel-5P) is the first satellite dedicated to monitoring atmospheric chemistry for the Copernicus programme. Airbus is the spacecraft prime contractor.

As current-day climate monitoring missions come to the end of their operational lifetimes, Sentinel-5P ensures the continuity of data to monitor the ozone hole and tropospheric pollution. Sentinel-5P will fill the gap between current atmospheric capabilities from polar Earth orbit and the launch of Sentinel-5 – which is envisaged for around 2021.


The high-precision Sentinel-5 instrument – developed and constructed by Airbus as prime contractor – 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 (MetOP-SG) satellite and fly in a roughly 800-kilometre polar orbit around the Earth.


Sentinel-6 – for which Airbus is prime contractor to the European Space Agency (ESA) – is a mission to carry out high-precision measurements of ocean surface topography.

The satellite will measure its distance to the ocean surface with an accuracy of a few centimetres and use 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 six high-priority candidate missions (HPCMs) to address European Union policy and fill gaps in Copernicus user needs, as well as to expand capabilities of the Copernicus space component.

A new naming protocol was established for this next generation of Sentinel spacecraft (#7 through #12), replacing the numerical ordering with a designation reflecting each satellite’s specific mission. 

CHIME: Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission


CHIME is designed to provide routine hyperspectral observations to support new and enhanced services for sustainable agricultural and biodiversity management, as well as soil property characterisation. For this mission, it will utilise a unique visible-to-shortwave infrared spectrometer.

CIMR: Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer


The CIMR mission will provide observations of sea-surface temperature, sea ice concentration and sea-surface salinity using a wide-swath conically-scanning multi-frequency microwave radiometer. It will be capable of observing a wide range of other sea-ice parameters as well. 

CO2M: Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring


Equipped with a near-infrared and shortwave-infrared spectrometer, the CO2M mission will measure carbon dioxide produced by human activity – with an aim to reduce current uncertainties in estimates of emissions of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuel at national and regional scales.

CRISTAL: Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter


CRISTAL will monitor sea-ice thickness and overlying snow depth using dual-frequency radar altimeter and microwave radiometer technology from Airbus. 

LSTM: Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring


The LSTM mission responds to priority requirements of the agricultural user community for improving sustainable agricultural productivity at field-scale in a world of increasing water scarcity and variability. 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 provide additional information that cannot be gathered by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 C-band radar mission – supporting forest management, precision farming and food security.  

Going further

Sentinel satellites benefit from the SpaceDataHighway services provided by Airbus. The Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites are equipped with laser communication terminals that significantly accelerate the delivery of time-critical data and large volumes of data to Earth monitoring centres.


Sentinel 6MF Launch Preparation    
CRISTAL artist view    
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich shipment    
 Sentinel-2A satellite    
Great Barrier Reef image from Sentinel-2A satellite    
Central Eastern Brazil image from Sentinel-2A satellite    
Sentinel 2A    
Sentinel 6 Infographic    
Sentinel 6A In The Reverberation Chamber    
Sentinel 6A Acoustic Noise Test    
Sentinel 6 Infographic 9x16    
Airbus engineer testing ocean satellite Sentinel-6A’s    
Airbus engineer testing ocean satellite Sentinel-6A’s    
Copernicus Masters    
Copernicus Masters    
Airbus Sentinels    
Copernicus C Airbus    
Sentinel-2 Infographic    
Sentinel-5p - Overview    
Sentinel-5p - Function    
Sentinel-5p - Airbus Contribution    
Copernicus and Sentinels Infographic ES    
Copernicus and Sentinels Infographic FR    
Copernicus and Sentinels Infographic DE    
Copernicus And Sentinels Infographic    
Copernicus and Sentinels Infographic EN    
Meet us at ILA 2016 in Berlin      
Airbus Defence and Space, a driving force for Copernicus      
Climate monitoring missions      
MetOp-SG - Meteorological data across the entire globe      
Airbus Defence and Space, a driving force for Copernicus      
Sentinel-1 - "Radar Vision"      

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