The European Space Agency last month expanded its Copernicus program with the launch of its third Sentinel satellite. After a few weeks of early testing, the Earth-observing Sentinel-3A satellite is starting to phone home with some breathtaking images of its primary subject — the Earth’s surface.
Following its launch, the satellite passed its early operations in record time, allowing the ESA to start turning on its instruments, beginning with the ocean and land color instrument, OLCI. The OLCI captured its first image at 14:09 GMT on February 29, a mere 13 days after its February 16 launch. The spacecraft first recorded a stunning photo that shows Svalbard, Norway as it transitions from day to night. In the first few days of operation, the satellite also delivered, among others, an image of California and one sweeping photo with Spain, Portugal, the Strait of Gibraltar and North Africa.
The Sentinel-3A is one of the most complex satellites in the Copernicus project. “It is a real workhorse,” said Volker Liebig, ESA’s director of Earth observation programs. Not surprisingly, the satellite does more than just produce eye candy for laymen’s enjoyment. It also contains Earth-observing instruments that are designed to monitor environmental changes, especially in the ocean.
Though it is focused on oceanic measurements, the satellite is capable of land and atmospheric measurements as well. Data is sent in near real time, allowing scientist to use this data to predict weather and ocean conditions. It also can measure vegetation, crop conditions, and inland water levels, all of which are relevant variables to environmental scientists who are studying the health of our planet. The satellite will send its data to both the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service and the global land component of the Copernicus Land Service.