ESA's all-seeing space eye captures momentary sunshine over Britain

New addition to Copernicus, Sentinel-3B, is alive and well and taking pictures


The newly launched Sentinel-3B satellite has snapped its first shots of home, delighting boffins back on Earth.

The latest addition to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus programme was launched on 25 April from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome and successfully placed in orbit.

Less than two weeks later, scientists have got the satellite peering down through the atmosphere.

ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, was clearly chuffed with the performance of the team, commenting: "We finished the launch and early orbit phase in a record time and we are now getting on with the task of commissioning the satellite for service."

The first image was captured on 7 May at 10:33 UTC and showed the transition between day and night over the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. Later images captured sea ice off Greenland and a picture of Northern Europe looking a little sunburnt in an all-too-brief moment of cloud-free weather.

Along with its twin, Sentinel-3A, the fleet will measure the temperature, colour and height of the sea and the thickness of sea ice, as well as land usage, vegetation and river and lake height.

The team plans to spend the next five months commissioning the satellite before moving it to its final orbit where it could spend up to 12 years staring back at the planet.

Between them, the two satellites provide global coverage every two days and ESA aims to make the majority of processed data available within 48 hours after sensing.

Fans of Earth observation data can stream their socks off at the Copernicus Open Access Hub, which has served nearly 60PB of information over the years.

The Copernicus programme itself currently has six families of Sentinel satellites approved. Sentinels 1A and 1B went up in 2014 and 2016 respectively, and provide radar images. Sentinels 2A and 2B, which launched in 2015 and 2017, provide high resolution optical land imagery. Sentinel 5P rode a Rockot to orbit in 2017 to measure air quality after ESA's 2002 Earth observation satellite ENVISAT unexpectedly failed in 2012.

The remaining satellites – Sentinels 4, 5 and 6 – will head to orbit over the coming years. ®

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