New satellite developed by UK research to monitor environment

Science Minster Lord Sainsbury has announced a new £1.4 billion satellite which will track and record changes in the environment, and which is described as the world’s most advanced Earth observation satellite.

Envisat – short for Environmental Satellite – was developed by the British National Space Centre (BNSC) and the UK space industry in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). The satellite is due to be launched on 1 March from the Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana.

This new ‘eye-in-the-sky’ will gather environmental and climatic data such as global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer, and information on the interactions between the oceans, earth and atmosphere. Envisat will also play a leading role in monitoring unpredictable but often devastating natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods.

Sensors will measure data on aspects such as air temperature, pressure and trace gases in the upper atmosphere; and will provide images which will be used to study ocean waves, the extent and motion of sea ice, snow cover, surface topography, land surface properties, soil moisture, and deforestation. One set of instruments will also measure starlight travelling through the atmosphere, enabling scientists to gain a better understanding of changes in the ozone layer and of other chemical interactions taking place at high altitudes.

Another set of instruments onboard Envisat will measure solar radiation reflected by the planet’s surface and clouds, in order to study ocean colour and provide data on the biological and physical constituents of the oceans and coastal waters. It will also be possible to determine the ability of clouds to reflect or absorb solar radiation, and the distribution of vegetation. Other instruments will also contribute to weather and sea forecasting; measurement of greenhouse gas emissions and industrial pollution in the troposphere and stratosphere; and an understanding of the role of natural atmospheric processes such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires in the changing composition of the atmosphere and cloud coverage.

“The Envisat mission will give us vast amounts of new information about our planet, and I am delighted that UK firms have played a leading role in its development,” said Science Minister Lord Sainsbury ahead of the launch. “The instruments on board the satellite push forward the boundaries of space technology development. This will ensure UK scientists have speedy access to detailed and accurate information about our changing planet. Their findings will underpin the future development of environmental policy, particularly on climate change.” The UK government provided £300 million of funding over 10 years for the project.

UK and European researchers will analyse the information sent back by the satellite.

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