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N° 13–2013: ESA’s next Earth Explorer satellite

7 May 2013

ESA’s Earth Observation Programme Board has selected ‘Biomass’ to become the seventh Earth Explorer mission. The innovative satellite aims to map and monitor one of Earth’s most precious resources.

Following the review of three candidate concepts at the Board’s meeting today, the Biomass mission concept is set to become the next in a series of satellites developed to further our understanding of Earth.

The satellite will be designed to provide, for the first time from space, P-band radar measurements that are optimised to determine the amount of biomass and carbon stored in the world’s forests with greater accuracy than ever before.

This information, which is poorly known in the tropics, is essential to our understanding of the role of forests in Earth’s carbon cycle and in climate change.

Reliable knowledge of tropical forest biomass also underpins the implementation of the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative – an international effort to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and land degradation in developing countries.

In addition, the measurements made by Biomass offer the opportunity to map the elevation of Earth’s terrain under dense vegetation, yielding information on subsurface geology and allowing the estimation of glacier and ice-sheet velocities, critical to our understanding of ice-sheet mass loss in a warming Earth.

Biomass also has the potential to evolve into an operational system, providing long-term monitoring of forests – one of Earth’s most important natural resources. The launch of the mission is foreseen for 2020.

“Biomass is an innovative new addition to the Earth Explorer satellite series,” said Volker Liebig, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes. It will play an important role in quantifying forest biomass  – information necessary to better understand the carbon cycle.

“The Earth Observation Programme Board today gave its full approval to the selection of Biomass but has also requested that ESA ensures the best value for money to Member States by confirming implementation of the mission when the full industrial proposal is available.

“This shows the importance attached to the efficient execution of the mission by European industry in times where programme finance is under pressure.”

The selection of Biomass was based on the Earth Science Advisory Committee’s recommendation following a scientific peer review at the Earth Explorer 7 User Consultation Meeting held in Graz, Austria in March.

The Committee recognised the potential value to science and society of the other two candidate missions, CoReH2O and PREMIER, and has given further advice to ESA on how this potential can be realised.

The Earth Explorers are a series of satellites developed to further our understanding of Earth.

Three missions currently in orbit are providing new insight into Earth’s cryosphere, gravity and soil moisture and ocean salinity. Future missions will provide new information on the magnetic field, wind and how clouds and aerosols affect the radiation budget.

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe's gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 20 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of whom 18 are Member States of the EU.

ESA has Cooperation Agreements with eight other Member States of the EU and is discussing an Agreement with the one remaining (Bulgaria). Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

ESA is also working with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.

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