Europe launches first satellite in huge earth observation project
DARMSTADT, Germany, April 3 (Reuters) - Europe will on Thursday launch the first of six satellites forming part of the multi-billion-euro Copernicus Earth observation project that could offer valuable images in the event of a natural disaster or even a plane crash.
The Sentinel-1 satellite, to be sent into Earth's orbit from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana, will be used to monitor sea ice, oil spills and land use and to respond to emergencies such as floods and earthquakes.
The satellite, which carries a 12-metre-long (40-foot-long) radar antenna and has two 10 metre-long solar panels, was to lift off at 2102 GMT on Thursday night aboard a Souyuz rocket and then orbit the planet at 693 km (439 miles) above the earth.
The Copernicus project, for which the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA) have committed funding of around 8.4 billion euros ($11.5 billion) until 2020, is described by the ESA as the most ambitious earth observation programme to date.
Copernicus - which comprises six Sentinel satellite missions - is designed to supply data that can help policymakers develop environmental legislation or react to emergencies such as natural disasters or humanitarian crises.
Its launch became especially urgent after Europe lost contact with its Earth observation satellite Envisat in 2012 after 10 years.
"The big step forward is that we can now cover every place on Earth every 3-6 days," Volker Liebig, director of ESA's Earth Observation programme, told Reuters ahead of the launch.
"This used to take much longer with Envisat. If you want to use images for disaster management support or to find a plane, then you want the images to be as fresh as possible."
However, he cautioned you would first need to know roughly where a plane had crashed, which is not the case with the missing Malaysian Airlines jet. Continuación...