The UK-built Sentinel-5P is ready to begin its journey from Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK to Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia as part of the Copernicus Programme – the world’s largest Earth observation venture headed by the European Commission (EC) and the European Space Agency (ESA). The Programme is designed to last for seven years.
Scheduled for launch in late September/early October of 2017, the satellite was built to monitor levels of pollution on the planet and forge a connection between outer space and everyday life on Earth.
“Space is not just for geeks, it is part of our national and international infrastructure,” said Colin Paynter, Managing Director of Airbus Defence and Space, UK.
In addition to methane – one of the most potent greenhouse gases – the satellite will also look for nitrogen dioxide and other key pollutants across individual countries, thereby providing an accurate means of comparing the actual versus declared levels of emissions.
The “sentinel” could also provide data on concentrations of volcanic ash and high levels of UV radiation, which might prove helpful in efforts to mitigate the spread of certain diseases, such as skin cancer, and improve air safety.
Commenting on the Copernicus Programme – set to eventually consist of 20 individual missions – Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observation Programmes at ESA, claims, “a system like this has never existed before” and that “the US and other partners are looking to Europe to make deals to get access to this data.”
While the UK has been a strong partner so far, Aschbacher worries that Brexit might ultimately have a negative impact on future collaboration. Despite the fact that Britain will remain a member of the ESA, British involvement will largely depend on the final settlement.
“It is clearly important to our industry to stay a part of the programme,” said Graham Turnock, Chief Executive, UK Space Agency. “We cannot wait until the day before Brexit to get clarity on this.”
Given the continuous negotiations between the EC, the ESA, and the latter’s European partners, the future involvement of the UK in “Copernicus” should become clear during the ESA Ministerial Meeting in late 2019 where each country will agree on how much to contribute to the Programme’s success.