Press Release

New spacecraft to preserve our planet and the environment

By SpaceRef Editor
October 30, 2001
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Three hundred leading scientists in the field of climate and environmental
research using Earth Observation satellites meet this week in Granada
(Spain) to push forward the European Space Agency’s Living Planet
programme aimed at advancing our understanding of the interactions between
the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land, to enable mankind to understand
the Earth as an integrated system.

It all started in 1996, when the Earth Explorers missions were set on
their way, and it continued in 1999, when the first two pioneering
spacecraft missions- currently under development- were selected; one
addressing the Earth’s Gravity field and global ocean circulation (GOCE),
the other studying the global dynamic wind-field in the lower atmosphere
(Aeolus-ADM). And the story goes on today as, for the second cycle, ESA
has again chosen Granada as the venue for the important decision on which
satellite missions will fly next.

The Earth Explorers are the research driven component of ESA’s Living
Planet programme seeking to advance the understanding of the different
Earth system processes, in developing our knowledge about the Earth,
preserving our planet and its environment and managing life on Earth in a
more efficient way. In the long term, the programme also contributes to
applications such as the management of the Earth’s environment and its
resources as well as mitigation of natural and human-induced hazards.

The Earth Explorers consist of two mission types, the Core and the
Opportunity missions. Core missions are large research/demonstration
missions led by ESA. Opportunity missions are small research/demonstration
missions providing the means for a more rapid response to new ideas and
can either be led by ESA or by other organisations.

On 30 and 31 October in Granada, the new suite of Explorer-Core Mission
candidates, proposed by Europe’s leading scientific experts, will be
evaluated by peer review panels – building the base for a recommendation
that they later be launched into orbit. Five satellite missions have been
defined and proposed. Three of them, based on their scientific
excellence, will be recommended to go forward for feasibility studies. Two
are planned to be launched after a further selection process. The mission
candidates are:

ACECHEM (atmospheric Composition Explorer for CHEMistry and climate
interaction). A combination of spectrometers will investigate how
human-induced chemical alterations to the lower atmosphere (troposphere)
and upper atmosphere (stratosphere) may go on to cause climate change.

EarthCARE (Earth Clouds, Aerosol and Radiation Explorer). Instruments,
including radar, lidar, imager, radiometer, and spectrometer will peer
closely at the interaction between clouds, aerosol and radiation to better
understand their impact on climate. This is a joint European – Japanese
candidate mission.

SPECTRA (Surface Processes and Ecosystem Changes Through Response
Analysis). A high-performance imaging spectrometer and a thermal imager
will study the relationship between vegetation and climate change across
the worlds entire ecosystems.

WALES (Water vapour and Lidar Experiment in Space)
A Lidar – a laser-based device that works on the same principle as radar
does – will map atmospheric water vapour concentrations.

WATS (Water vapour and temperature in the Troposphere and Stratosphere)
A flotilla of small satellites will measure tropospheric and stratospheric
humidity and temperature by checking how GPS radio signals are bent by
passage through them.

These Earth Explorer missions all build on the experience gained with
their larger predecessors ERS-1 and 2, launched in 1991 and 1995
respectively, which provided us with a wealth of data giving major insight
into climate processes particularly involving oceans and ice sheets. They
will also follow up Envisat, the largest and most comprehensive
environment and climate research satellite ever built, which is ready to
be launched in January 2002. The Core Explorers are very specific
dedicated science missions, much smaller than their predecessors,
weighing not more than two tons and keeping to an overall budget of
maximum 400 Meuro, from start of development until end of operations.

The recommendations of the peer review teams will be passed on to ESA’s
Earth Science Advisory Committee and to the Agency’s Earth Observation
Programme Board later in November. After that, the candidate missions
retained will undergo full feasibility studies and finally ESA should
start building the satellites for two out of three missions studied.

More detailed information can be found on ESA’s new Living Planet webpages
launched earlier in October:

For more information, please contact :

Dr Mike Rast

Earth Sciences Division

Tel.: +31.71.565.4465

Fax: +31.71.565.5675

SpaceRef staff editor.