About future missions

Understanding Earth

Understanding changes in the Earth system and the impact that humanity is having on its delicate balance is paramount. The ability to acquire new insight into Earth-system processes poses significant scientific and technical challenges.

However, it also provides the stimulus and opportunity to develop new measurement capabilities, exploiting the unique vantage point of space to study the ebb and flow of natural processes and the impact human activity is having at local, regional and global scales.

The series of Earth Explorer satellite missions are the epitome of Europe’s technical endeavour in realising new Earth-observing capabilities. These missions offer a stream of innovative measurement techniques to explore and understand different aspects of the Earth system.

Priorities identified by the scientific community are used to guide the development of the Earth Explorer missions. Each has been selected to address and fulfil the strategic objectives of ESA’s Living Planet Programme as well as contribute critical new elements to the global Earth-observing system infrastructure.

The guiding principle of defining, developing and operating Earth Explorer missions in close cooperation with the scientific community provides a tool to address the most critical Earth-science questions in as comprehensive and effective a manner as possible.

Through a peer-reviewed selection process, this on-going user-driven approach  has led to the development of seven Earth Explorer missions, the most recent being Biomass which was selected in May 2013. The Biomass mission will measure forest biomass to assess terrestrial carbon stocks and fluxes.

The selection of the eighth Earth Explorer will follow a User Consultation Meeting in Krakow, Poland on 15–16 September 2015. Two mission concepts are being evaluated: CarbonSat and the Fluorescence Explorer mission (FLEX).

The CarbonSat mission aims to determine the global distribution of two of the most important greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: carbon dioxide and methane. Data from the mission would lead to a better understanding of the sources and sinks of these two gases and how they are linked to climate change.

The Fluorescence Explorer mission, FLEX, aims to provide global maps of vegetation fluorescence, which can be converted into an indicator of actual photosynthetic activity. These data would provide information on plant health and stress, thereby improving our understanding of the global carbon cycle and supporting food security. The FLEX satellite would orbit in tandem with one of the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites.

Last update: 15 September 2015

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