The Sentinel-1A satellite successfully launched on Thursday from Kourou, French Guinea. A Russian Soyuz rocket lifted the craft to space and placed the orbiting observatory into the required orbit, 430 miles above the Earth. The Sentinel successfully unfolded and locked its antennae and solar panels, readying the observatory for its upcoming mission.
This is the first of a series of six spacecraft that will make up the Copernicus monitoring system. The European Earth Observation Programme is aimed at providing faster, more accurate data on disasters. Events monitored by the Copernicus program include floods, forest fires, oil spills and storms. Ships will also be routed around hazardous areas by Copernicus.
"The data provided by this satellite will enable considerable progress in improving maritime security, climate change monitoring and providing support in emergency and crisis situations. Multiplying, in this way, the benefits that European citizens will reap from our space programmes," Antonio Tajani, vice-president of the European Commission, said.
Cloud-penetrating radar will be able to take data even when bad weather further hampers disaster areas. That tool was developed by Airbus Defense and Space.
Separation between the orbiting observatory and the upper stage of the Soyuz rocket happened 23 minutes and 24 seconds after the craft lifted off the ground. A ten-hour long process was required to open and lock 33-foot long solar panels and 40-foot radar antennae for the upcoming mission.
Emergency workers will be able to access information from the craft to assist them in rescue efforts.
Copernicus is a 5.19 billion dollar program, co-managed by the ESA and the European Union (EU). The Sentinel 1A will be controlled by engineers in Europe. For the first portion of its mission, the craft will not be able to communicate with ground controllers during blackout periods of the orbit. In 2015, the ESA plans to launch an orbiting high-speed relay, allowing data to be sent between the craft and ground controllers at all times.
Sentinel information collection will include "imaging all global landmasses, coastal zones and shipping routes at high resolution and covering the global ocean with vignettes," the European Space Agency wrote.
The 2.4 ton spacecraft will soon be joined by a sister craft, the Sentinel-1B. That observatory is scheduled for launch at the end of 2015. The two spacecraft will orbit 180 degrees apart from one another at all times. This will allow radar images of any location on Earth to be taken within six days.
Data collected by the Copernicus program will be readily available to the public for any purpose.