European Union Facing Earth Science Satellite Shortfalls

[Satellite News 06-08-12] Efforts are being coordinated between the European Space Agency (ESA) and other space agencies to fill in the gaps left by the European Union’s (EU) recent loss of the decade-old Envisat satellite last month, ESA officials confirmed June 8.

   But some of those agencies also added that the Envisat loss has impacted Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program and increased the pressure on ESA to launch its Sentinel satellites on Arianespace’s Vega rockets.
   Launched in 2002, Envisat is the largest Earth observation spacecraft ever built. It carries 10 sophisticated optical and radar instruments to provide continuous observation and monitoring of the Earth’s land, atmosphere, oceans and ice caps. Envisat data collectively provide a wealth of information on the workings of the Earth system, including insights into factors contributing to climate change.
   Envisat also provided Europe with data for many operational services to monitor the environment and respond to crises such as oil spills, as well as to help develop Europe’s future monitoring services.
   MyOcean, which provides marine services for the EU Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program, relies on the provision of robust satellite data that will largely be supplied by the ESA’s new family of Sentinel satellites.
   “The quality of MyOcean products, derived exclusively from Envisat’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar and MERIS sensors such as those for monitoring sea ice and ocean water quality, has obviously been affected and the corresponding services have ceased,” said MyOcean Spokesman Joël Dorandeu. “The quality of monitoring and forecasting model products based on multiple sensors has also been impacted. The situation is particularly critical for the altimetry constellation.”
   Though the EU GMES program is planning to launch the first three Sentinel satellites in 2013, funding to operate the satellites in orbit has yet to be guaranteed from the European Commission.
   European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Spokesman Richard Engelen said that until the EU launches the Sentinels, services already being offered through GMES that rely heavily on data from Envisat will continue to diminish.
   “Services associated with the atmosphere are also suffering from the loss of Envisat,” said Engelen. “For example, the Monitoring Atmospheric Composition and Climate (MACC) project used Envisat as a source of information to monitor methane and ozone. Observations of ozone from Envisat’s Sciamachy and MIPAS instruments were routinely used in MACC near-real time monitoring and forecasting services. MIPAS was one of only two satellite instruments providing accurate detailed profile information of ozone in near-real time. Sciamachy provided the only satellite observations of methane. The Sentinel missions will provide important information on ozone and methane, as well as other atmospheric gases. It is therefore crucial that these missions are launched on schedule.”
   With no data from Envisat, the production of MERIS-derived agricultural and environmental indicators has stopped, Engelen added.
The ESA did say it was working with its civil space partners to see if other missions contributing to GMES can help make-up for the lack of Envisat data. But with many services affected, Engelen and others hope that the European Commission will expedite the funding process to bring the Sentinel satellites into orbit.

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