Today, ESA and Arianespace signed a contract that secures the launch of the Earth Explorer Biomass satellite. With liftoff scheduled for 2022 on a Vega launch vehicle from French Guiana, this new mission is another step closer to mapping the amount of carbon stored in forests and how it changes over time though deforestation, for example.
Other satellites can measure how much of Earth’s surface is covered by trees, but the Biomass mission takes forest counting to a new level by using a type of instrument that has never before been flown in space: a ‘P-band’ synthetic aperture radar.
P-band is the longest radar wavelength available to Earth observation. From over 650 km above, it will be able to ‘see’ through the leafy forest canopy and measure the height of forest. This information that can be used to work out how much biomass – a proxy for carbon – is being stored in forests.
Forests play a crucial role in the carbon cycle by absorbing and storing large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, said, “We are all aware of the climate crisis and how important forests are to the health of our planet.
Mapping forest biomass from space is certainly a technical challenge because forests are complex structures. Nevertheless, the Biomass mission is up to the task and will spend at least five years in orbit, and therefore witness numerous growth cycles, to deliver critical data to understand more about the carbon cycle and how our forest resources are changing.”
The mission is also expected to support important UN treaties on the reduction of emissions through deforestation and forest degradation as well as lead to new insights into habitat loss and biodiversity in the forest environment.
Scientists will also be able to use the mission’s new technology to map topography under dense vegetation and for mapping subsurface geology in deserts.
With the launch contract signed, the 1200 kg Biomass satellite will be taken into orbit on a Vega launch vehicle from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana with the launch period starting in October 2022.
Stéphane Israël, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, said, “We are very proud to fly the Biomass satellite with Vega. Once again, Vega guarantees Europe’s access to space, enabling ESA to carry out a crucial mission at the service of everyone as we face the immense challenge of climate change.”