PARIS — Europe on Thursday launched the first in a constellation of high-tech satellites designed to monitor Earth for climate change and environmental damage and help disaster relief operations. Sentinel-1A, a satellite designed to scan the Earth with cloud-penetrating radar, lifted off at 2102 GMT aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, the European Space Agency (ESA) said. The 2.2-tonne satellite is the first of half a dozen orbital monitors that will be built and launched under the 3.786-billion-euro (US$5.19-billion) Copernicus project, a joint undertaking of ESA and the European Union (EU).
Sentinel-1A separated from the rocket’s upper stage 23 minutes and 24 seconds after launch. It will be followed by a partner, Sentinel-1B, due to be launched toward the end of next year. Operating 180 degrees apart, at an altitude of about 700 kilometers, between them the pair will be able to take a radar picture of anywhere on Earth within six days. Radar scanning has a range of uses, from spotting icebergs and oil slicks to detecting rogue logging and ground subsidence. The data will be widely accessible to the public, and is likely to have uses that go beyond the environment, such as in construction and transport.