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Airbus Defence and Space signs ESA contract for high-precision Earth observation instrument

Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, will be the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) prime contractor for the development and construction of the high-precision Sentinel-5 instrument worth €144 million.

The instrument will monitor the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere globally on a daily basis by taking measurements of trace gases and aerosols that have an impact on the climate and air quality.

“It is only with satellites and their instruments that we can observe the environment globally and continuously. ESA has entrusted us to take the Copernicus programme forward by constructing the next key instrument, the high-precision Sentinel-5 spectrometer, at our optical space centre in Ottobrunn, near Munich – Germany,” said Michael Menking, Head of Earth observation, navigation and science programmes at Space Systems. “To date, we are already constructing three Sentinel satellites and various other Sentinel instruments for the Copernicus programme that support a modern, efficient infrastructure for Earth observation and geo-information services. This demonstrates how our high-tech expertise serves global environmental monitoring as well as global security.”

Sentinel-5 will be installed on a MetOP Second Generation (MetOP-SG) satellite and fly in a roughly 800 kilometre polar orbit around the Earth. The high-tech instrument is expected to be delivered in 2019, while the launch of the satellite is scheduled for 2021. With a swath width of around 2,670 kilometres, the Sentinel-5 will provide daily global coverage of the Earth’s atmosphere with an unprecedented spatial resolution of 7×7 km2 at nadir, allowing atmospheric and climate scientists to accurately detect and analyse emission sources. This includes determining the concentration of trace gases as significant components in the atmosphere, such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, methane, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and aerosols.

At the heart of Sentinel-5 is an ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared (UVNS) imaging spectrometer. This large spectral bandwidth is an absolute necessity for measuring the types of molecules named above. The mass-optimised instrument, weighing around 270 kilogrammes and with a service life of more than seven years, consists of the optical module – comprising a reflecting telescope, a beam-splitter optical assembly, two ultraviolet/visible (UV-Vis) and one near-infrared (NIR) spectrometer optics as well as two shortwave infrared (SWIR) systems and a calibration subsystem – and two control electronics assemblies. Airbus Defence and Space is putting together a team of around 24 European suppliers for the development and construction of Sentinel-5.

Airbus Defence and Space has already constructed a large number of optical instruments that successfully operate on scientific, Earth observation and meteorological satellites. The company gained valuable experience from developing ERS-1 and Envisat, key European low-Earth orbit environmental satellites; the Sciamachy instrument for mapping the ozone layer and the development of the ozone hole; the Sentinel-4, a dispersive imaging spectrometer operating from geostationary orbit, as well as the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), the major European contribution to the NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Climate change, air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer are important social issues. Trace gas emissions and aerosols change the chemical composition of the atmosphere, which could have a lasting detrimental effect on the Earth’s living conditions: trace or greenhouse gases heat up the Earth and cause climate zones to shift and sea levels to rise. Combustion products such as nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons cause air pollution from ozone and aerosols, and chlorofluorocarbons and halons have reduced the stratospheric ozone layer. Sentinel-5 observes the Earth’s atmosphere so that the human impact on the climate, air quality and stratospheric ozone can be monitored more closely and differentiated from natural emissions. Furthermore, it will make predicting the condition of the atmosphere easier, ranging from near-realtime, next-day air pollution forecasts to climate forecasts for the coming decades.

About Copernicus
Copernicus is the most ambitious Earth observation programme to date. It will provide accurate, timely and easily accessible information to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security. Copernicus is the new name for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme, previously known as GMES. This initiative is headed by the European Commission (EC) in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Environment Agency (EEA). ESA is responsible for the coordination of the space component of the programme, coordinates the delivery of data from more than 30 contributing satellites and operates – in tandem with Eumetsat – the Sentinels while the EEA is responsible for data from airborne and ground sensors. The EC, acting on behalf of the European Union, is responsible for the overall initiative, setting requirements and managing the services.

About Airbus Defence and Space
Airbus Defence and Space is a division of Airbus Group formed by combining the business activities of Cassidian, Astrium and Airbus Military. The new division is Europe’s number one defence and space enterprise, the second largest space business worldwide and among the top ten global defence enterprises. It employs some 40,000 employees generating revenues of approximately €14 billion per year.