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Earth Observation

ESA has been dedicated to observing Earth from space ever since the launch of its first Meteosat meteorological satellite in 1977. Following the success of this first mission, the subsequent series of missions provided a wealth of valuable data about Earth, its climate and changing environment. It is crucial, however, that ESA continues to learn more about our planet if we are to understand the Earth system and its processes, especially within the context of global change. 


Image credit: ESA 2003

The Earth Observation Envelope Programme (EOEP) is the backbone of ESA activities in the field of Earth observation. The EOEP is run as an optional ESA programme through successive five-year periods – the current EOEP-3 runs between 2008 and 2012.

EOEP serves to develop new sensors and missions, including those required for sustaining the development of future operational services, harnessing the well-established synergy between basic science and applied technology in the field of Earth Observation. Both basic science and European technology developments are served by the EOEP's Earth Explorer missions. The EOEP also backs preparatory studies for future operational missions, known as Earth Watch missions, including future EUMETSAT missions as well as new missions for environmental monitoring. Finally, the EOEP is developing standardised ground segments and data storage suitable for a multi-mission environment.

Benefits of Earth Observation include: new technology and applications, public awareness of environmental degradation, setting the base for how to tackle threats on the state of our planet.

The Copernicus/GMES Space Component comprises two types of satellite missions, ESA's five families of dedicated Sentinels and missions from other space agencies, called Contributing Missions. A unified ground segment, through which the data are streamed and made freely available for Copernicus services, completes the Space Component. While the Sentinel satellites are currently being developed specifically for the needs of the programme, the Contributing Missions are already providing a wealth of data for Copernicus services, and will continue to deliver complementary data after all the Sentinels are in orbit.

Developed and procured by ESA, MetOp is a series of three satellites dedicated to operational meteorology until at least 2020. The programme, which forms the space segment of Eumetsat's Polar System (EPS), is Europe's contribution to a cooperative venture with the US, providing data to monitor climate and improve weather forecasting. The first in the series, MetOp-A, was launched in 2006 and MetOp-B was launched on 17 September 2012. Preparations have also started for MetOp Second Generation or 'Post-EPS', the next step for the Eumetsat Polar System.


Image credit: ESA-P. Carril, 2012