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The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched an extension of its Living Planet research programme dedicated to understanding the impact human activity has on our planet.

The Changing Earth: New Scientific Challenges for ESA's Living Planet Programme will focus on mapping global change, which ESA describes as the most fundamental challenge facing humanity.

ESA has outlined six objectives it wants to acheive with the programme, including launching "a steady flow of missions" that will further the state of knowledge in Earth science. It also says it wants to ensure that missions complement research being done by other agencies, and promises to work to translate scientific priorities into actual missions as fast as possible.

The Living Planet programme has two strands: the Earth Explorer missions and the work done under the Earth Watch banner. So far, six Explorer missions have been given the green light, with two (the GOCE [Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer] and SMOS [Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity]) slated to launch next year.

Another six missions are under consideration.

Under the Earth Watch banner, ESA aims to provide data that "underpins operational services", such as weather forecasting, but because of the long-term nature of these missions, the data they gather will be immensely useful for scientists as well.

Read more about the missions and the planned science here. ®

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