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The First Copernicus satellite continues to function after exceeding design working life

on 17 December 2021

October marked seven years since the very first satellite that ESA built for the European Union’s Copernicus programme started delivering data to monitor the environment. The Sentinel-1A satellite has shed new light on our changing world and has been key to supplying a wealth of radar imagery to aid disaster response.

While this remarkable satellite may have been designed for an operational life of seven years, it is still going strong and fully expected to be in service for several years to come.

Launched on 3 April 2014 and delivering a stream of operational data by the beginning October 2014, Copernicus Sentinel-1A marked a new era in global environmental monitoring. Carrying the latest radar technology to provide an all-weather, day-and-night supply of imagery of Earth’s surface, this new mission not only raised the bar for spaceborne radar, but also set the stage for Europe’s Copernicus programme.

Copernicus has been the largest provider of Earth observation data in the world for some years now. The suite of Sentinel missions in orbit delivering complementary data and the range of services offered through Copernicus help address some of today’s toughest environmental challenges such as food security, rising sea levels, diminishing ice, natural disasters, and the overarching issue of the climate crisis.

The Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission comprises two identical satellites orbiting 180° apart to image the planet with a repeat frequency of six days, down to a daily coverage at high latitudes to support operational sea-ice monitoring. Sentinel-1B was launched in April 2016.

Over the last seven years, the mission has, for example, tracked the huge A-68 iceberg that calved from Antarctica and had a near-collision with South Georgia, has been used in synergy with the Copernicus Sentinel-2 optical mission to map crop types and with ESA’s CryoSat to map ice loss from ice sheets and diminishing sea ice as well as ice lost from the world’s glaciers.

With the mission designed to work as a pair of satellites, when the time does come for Sentinel-1A to retire, Sentinel-1C will take its place in orbit. The same goes for Sentinel-1B, which will eventually be replaced by Sentinel-1D. The latter two Sentinel-1 satellites will further improve performance and services with new instruments dedicated to marine applications.

More details here.

Image credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2014–2020), processed by ESA/Norut–SEOM Insarap study, Planetek Rheticus Service/GEP, CNR-IREA & BRGM/ENVEO, CCI & FFG