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ESA greenlights Sentinel-1 deal, inks agreements with NASA

Official pens seeing plenty of action

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It's all go this week for the European Space Agency, ESA. The agency has ordered the first satellites for its Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme, and finalised details of how it will work with NASA on two massive projects: the James Webb Space Telescope and the LISA Pathfinder mission.

Sentinel-1, expected to be launched in 2011, is the first of five satellites that will monitor changes in the Earth's oceans, land, weather and climate. The agency signed the €229m deal with Thales Alenia Space on Monday, at the Paris International Air Show.

The craft will carry a synthetic aperture radar system that allows it to collect images of the Earth's surface regardless of the levels of light. It will be able to track waves as they travel across the seas and monitor the surface movement of the land.

The science programme accompanying the hardware will have a particular focus on improving our understanding of climate change, ESA said. The agency added that the satellites had other uses as well: Sentinel-1 is capable of capturing details down to a resolution of five metres, so will provide useful information for those co-ordinating a humanitarian response in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Meanwhile, ESA has also agreed terms with NASA on how the two agencies will share the work involved in readying the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's replacement, for space. According to the two agencies, NASA has overall responsibility for the construction, management and operation of the JWST, while ESA is providing some of the instruments and the Ariane 5 ECA rocket that will take the telescope into space.

They have also agreed who will provide what for the LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) pathfinder mission. LISA Pathfinder is designed to test drive technologies for a future LISA mission that will detect gravitational waves in space, testing the predictions of the theory of general relativity.

On LISA, ESA takes the lead, holding responsibility for the design development and launch of whole mission. The science packages on board will come from a European consortium, while NASA is providing a Disturbance Reduction System Package that "consists of thrusters that produce a minute level of force, combined with control systems and software", the agencies said. ®

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