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Satnews Daily
October 17th, 2017

ESA's Sentinel-5P joins Copernicus Satellite Family — Pollution Prosecutor Successfully Launched

The Airbus built, pollution monitoring satellite Sentinel-5 Precursor has been successfully launched on a Rockot from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia at 09.27 GMT on October 13.

The launch of ESA's Sentinel-5P satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia. Image is courtesy of ESA.

The £50 million satellite Sentinel-5 Precursor is part of the global monitoring program “Copernicus,” a joint European Commission–European Space Agency undertaking which aims to acquire continuous and accurate Earth observation data and provide services to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure civil security. Sentinel-5 Precursor will provide essential atmospheric chemistry data to the Copernicus program before the Sentinel-5 instrument becomes operational in 2021 on the MetOp Second Generation satellite.

Airbus-built Sentinel-5P in the clean room. Photo is courtesy of Airbus.

Airbus was prime for Sentinel-5 Precursor, with four sites involved in development and manufacturing of the satellite and its components: Stevenage (UK – prime contractor), Toulouse (France), Friedrichshafen (Germany) and Leiden (Netherlands).

Colin Paynter, Managing Director of Airbus Defence and Space in the UK said that today’s successful launch again moves forward the European Sentinel program wherein Airbus is playing a key role. Sentinel-5 Precursor was built in record time using the commercially successful AstroBus platform and demonstrates Airbus’ ability to adapt its range of hardware to new missions to meet important operational needs.

The UK’s Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson MP added that the successful launch of the Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite is a clear demonstration of the UK’s valuable contribution to improving global knowledge through satellite data, and the heights we can reach by collaborating with our European partners. The ongoing investment in the UK space sector forms a key part of the nation's industrial strategy and there is full commitment to ensure the infrastructure and skills are in place to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030.

Artistic rendition of the Sentinel-5P on orbit. Image is courtesy of Airbus.

Josef Aschbacher, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Program, added that with Sentinel-5 Precursor in orbit, another important milestone has been achieved that takes the EC-led Copernicus program into a new area: observing the air all breathe. Without the substantial contribution of the Netherlands to the TROPOMI instrument on board this satellite, this satellite could not have been built. A European collaboration of 30 high-tech companies, under the leadership of Airbus Defence and Space, made the mission possible.

Sentinel-5 Precursor features the TROPOMI (TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) instrument, developed by Airbus DS Netherlands for the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Netherlands Space Office.

The Airbus TROPOMI instrument.

TROPOMI will measure ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, methane and other atmospheric pollutants at a higher resolution than previous instruments. Having more accurate atmospheric data will enable improved climate models and pollutant tracking and forecasting. The MetOp Second Generation spacecraft will feature a different Sentinel 5 instrument.
Successful separation of Sentinel-5 Precursor from the launcher was achieved at 10:46 GMT.

Bill Simpson, the Sentinel-5P satellite and launcher manager, noted that before the launch that this point in any project is always emotional as most of the team have been working hard for many years and this is the last time they will see their ‘baby.’

The satellite carries the state-of-the-art Tropomi instrument to map a multitude of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols. Once operational, Sentinel-5P will map the global atmosphere every day with a resolution as high as 7×3.5 km. At this detail, air pollution over cities can be detected.

Artistic rendition of the Sentinel-5P on orbit.
Image is courtesy of Airbus.

TROPOMI is the single payload of the SENTINEL-5P spacecraft. The instrument uses passive remote sensing techniques to attain its objective by measuring at the Top Of Atmosphere (TOA) the solar radiation reflected by and radiated from the Earth.

The key mission driver for the SENTINEL-5P TROPOMI instrument is continuity of the SCIAMACHY instrument aboard ESA's Envisat satellite, the OMI instrument aboard NASA's Earth Observing System's (EOS) AURA satellite and the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME/GOME2) flying on the ERS-2 satellite and then on the METOP series of satellites. The SENTINEL-5P TROPOMI instrument observations capability will be continued by the future SENTINEL-5 mission, scheduled for launch in 2021.

TROPOMI inherits several components from the innovative OMI design, including:

  • Wide field of view (FOV) telescope (108° across-track (ACT)), resulting in a swath of 2 600km (same as OMI) and daily global coverage
  • Polarization scrambler, reducing the polarization sensitivity of the TROPOMI instrument to less than 0.5%. This is strongly preferred over corrections based on polarization measurements at a few wavelengths.
  • Use of two-dimensional detectors, allowing the instrument to operate in a push-broom configuration.


The mission will contribute to EU Copernicus services such as volcanic ash monitoring for aviation safety and for services that warn of high levels of UV radiation which can cause skin damage. In addition, the measurements will improve our knowledge of important processes in the atmosphere related to the climate and to the formation of holes in the ozone layer.