At just after 5:00 pm EST on Friday, an Arianespace rocket carrying the Sentinel-1B satellite will blast off into the skies above Kourou, French Guiana. Sentinel-1B will join its twin, Sentinel-1A (in orbit since April 2014), in a twin-satellite constellation (watch it live).
Yesterday, the mission control team at ESA’s ESOC space operations center performed a full rehearsal. “The launch rehearsal is one of the last milestones before lift off, and it cements the months of team training and, before that, years of preparation that go into preparing to fly a new satellite,” says Paolo Ferri, ESA’s Head of Mission Operations.
The pair of satellites will image our entire planet every six days using radar. These measurements will provide essential data for researchers across a wide range of climate studies. From monitoring Arctic sea ice to mapping forest and soil.
The Sentinel satellite can even map the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. Data from the Sentinel-1A shows where the ground rose and fell around the North Korean nuclear test in January. Here’s an image of the test site with the Sentinel data overlayed.
The dark blues and purples show where the ground sank up to 7 centimeters in spots. The yellows show a 2-3 centimeter rise. The data was taken between January 1 and January 12, while the apparent North Korea nuclear test took place on January 6.
Nicolai Gestermann, one of three scientists presenting research on detecting nuclear explosions, explained the findings are important because in the past scientists could only count on seismological data to find the epicenter of the blast. With new technology such as the Sentinel satellites, scientists can help confirm the seismological data.
Earlier this week, the Soyuz rocket headed for the launch pad. I know these rockets are huge, but seeing people next to them always puts things in perspective.
Sentinel-1B isn’t the only satellite going up tomorrow. Three tiny CubeSats are also joining the climate observing satellite. The 10 x 10 x 11 cm satellites were developed by students are are heading into space as part of ESA’s Fly Your Satellite! program.
France’s CNES space agency’s Microscope satellite is also hitching a ride. That satellite “will test the universality of free fall for the first time in space using an experiment 100 times more precise than anything on Earth.”
2016 is a busy year for the ESA
They already launched the Sentinel-3A and ExoMars. But the ESA’s work is far from over. This year will see the launch of four Sentinel satellites. ExoMars is due to arrive at the red planet in October. And Rosetta will end its mission by landing on the comet.
NASA isn’t the only one staying busy. ESA’s ESOC space operations center has thirteen missions going right now, with another nine being prepared. It’s busy times in the space sector with several agencies and private companies pushing the boundaries to the final frontier.