Europe's Earth-watching sat rides Soyuz to orbit

Successful launch of Sentinel-1B

The Soyuz thunders aloft yesterday. Pic: ESA / Manuel Pedoussaut

VID Europe's Sentinel-1B satellite thundered aloft yesterday from Kourou, French Guiana, en route to its Earth-monitoring role as part of the Copernicus environmental monitoring network.

The Soyuz lifter departed the launchpad at 21:02 GMT. Some 23 minutes later, Sentinel-1B separated from the rocket's Fregat upper stage to adopt a 700km altitude polar orbit.

Circling 180° apart from its identical twin Sentinel-1A, which launched back in 2014, the satellite will provide C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery of the Earth's surface, day or night, and regardless of the weather.

A Sentinel-1 satellite. Pic: ESA / ATG medialab

Sentinel-1. Pic: ESA / ATG medialab

Between them, Sentinels-1A and B will image the planet's entire surface every six days. The European Space Agency (ESA) explains: "The mission will benefit numerous services. For example, services that relate to the monitoring of Arctic sea-ice extent, routine sea-ice mapping, surveillance of the marine environment, including oil-spill monitoring and ship detection for maritime security, monitoring land-surface for motion risks, mapping for forest, water and soil management and mapping to support humanitarian aid and crisis situations."

Also aboard the Soyuz for the trip to space was France's 300kg "Micro-Satellite à traînée Compensée pour l'Observation du Principe d'Equivalence", aka Microscope, which will "test the universality of free fall (that in a vacuum all bodies fall at the same speed) for the first time in space".

The Microscope satellite. Pic: CNES / D.Ducros

Microscope. Pic: CNES / D.Ducros

Finally, the launch delivered to orbit three CubeSats developed by university student teams from Belgium, Denmark and Italy, as part of the Fly Your Satellite! programme.

ESA summarises: "OUFTI-1, University of Liege, Belgium, will test a new communications subsystem; e-st@r-II, Polytechnic of Turin, Italy, will demonstrate an attitude determination system that uses measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field; and AAUSAT4, University of Aalborg, Denmark, will operate an Automated Identification System (AIS) receiver in order to identify and track the position of ships transiting away from coastal areas." ®

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