FAQs

Thank you for your interest in ESA’s Copernicus website. Below please find some questions often asked about the Copernicus programme. If your question is not answered here please use the Contact us link in the left-hand bar and every effort will be made to answer your query.

What is Copernicus?
Copernicus is the new name for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme, previously known as GMES. It is the next European Commission flagship initiative in space after the Galileo global navigation satellite system. Copernicus will provide information services to support policies related to environment and security at European level, but with the broader objective of operational services on a global scale.

Who benefits from Copernicus?
Copernicus responds to the needs of citizens in Europe to access reliable information on the state of the environment supporting decision-makers in both public and private sectors.

What is ESA’s role in Copernicus?
ESA’s role within Copernicus is threefold. Firstly, ESA is the coordinator of the overall Copernicus Space Component. The Space Component includes a series of five space missions called 'Sentinels', which are being developed by ESA specifically for Copernicus. In addition, data from other satellites classified as 'Contributing Missions' will be used for the initiative. They include both existing and new satellites, whether owned and operated at European level by the EU, ESA, Eumetsat and their member states or on a national basis. They also include data acquired from non-European partners. Secondly, ESA is the development and procurement agency for the dedicated space infrastructure. And finally, ESA is responsible for the definition of the overall Copernicus Space Component architecture and for the planning of future Copernicus elements.

How many satellites dedicated to Copernicus are being developed?
Five separate families of satellites are envisaged:

Sentinel-1 – all-weather, day and night radar-imaging missions for land and ocean services
Sentinel-2 – high-resolution and optical imaging missions for land services
Sentinel-3 – global ocean and land monitoring missions
Sentinel-4 – geostationary atmospheric monitoring missions
Sentinel-5 – low-orbiting atmospheric monitoring missions

To ensure operational performance, the operational scenario is based on two satellites flying for each of the Sentinel-1, -2 and -3 missions.

The Sentinel-4 and -5 instruments will be carried on host satellite platforms operated by Eumetsat, to be launched in 2017 and 2020 respectively. A Sentinel-5 precursor mission is planned to launch in 2014, to reduce the gap between Envisat, in particular the Sciamachy instrument, and the launch of Sentinel-5.

What is meant by contributing missions?

In addition to the dedicated Sentinel missions, Copernicus relies on Contributing Missions. These are designated existing or planned missions from ESA and its Member States, Eumetsat and other European and international third part operators that make their data available for Copernicus. Access to these data is made available through coordinated data access and dissemination for Copernicus Services.

What kind of data is used for Copernicus Services?
Copernicus will use data provided by European and international space missions, as well as from instruments on aircraft, on the ground and in the oceans. The challenge lies in harmonising and processing the different data to provide the users with exactly the information they require.

How will information be extracted from satellite data?
The raw data, delivered from satellites through the network of ground stations, will be analysed and harmonised by the service providers. The objective is to extract specific information products from the satellite data. In many cases this is combined with measurements taken from aircraft, on the ground or in the oceans. For example, satellite-derived measurements of current air pollutants will be used with data from ground-based instruments and fed into a model to provide air quality forecasts for the next days.

Last update: 13 August 2013

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