New Earth Explorer mission to be selected

Understanding Earth
21 January 2013

This March marks an important milestone in the Earth observation calendar. Scientists from all over Europe will be gathering in Graz, Austria, to scrutinise three innovative satellite concepts. One will then be chosen as ESA’s seventh Earth Explorer.

Using breakthrough technology, the series of Earth Explorer satellites is designed to advance science by exploring different aspects of Earth. Together, these missions are improving our understanding of the complex interactions between Earth’s different components and how human activity is affecting natural processes.

With three missions already in orbit and another three on the road to launch, the next User Consultation Meeting will be held on 5–6 March.

This meeting provides the opportunity for the scientific community to debate the merits of three new mission concepts – each of which promises to deliver novel information on how our planet works.

The philosophy of developing Earth Explorer missions centres on the involvement of the scientific community from the very beginning of a mission’s life. Being proposed by the scientific community and realised through the user-driven selection process ensures that this series of state-of-the-art missions addresses the most urgent Earth science questions of our time.

The success of this approach is borne out by the advances that the GOCE gravity mission, the SMOS water mission and the CryoSat ice mission are already making to science. The Swarm magnetic field mission, to be launched this year, followed by the ADM-Aeolus and EarthCARE missions are set to improve our knowledge even further.

The three new concepts, Biomass, CoReH2O and PREMIER, have already undergone extensive feasibility studies to demonstrate their value to science and their technical viability. This phase culminated in the release of three in-depth reports for mission selection that form the basis for choice of the next mission.

Moreover, the latest analyses of the three missions performed in the past months are gathered in addendum reports which can be downloaded from the right-hand bar.

The meeting now provides the opportunity for the community to put forward their views, which are considered by ESA’s Earth Science Advisory Committee before recommending which mission should be selected.

Registration for the meeting can be made via the User Consultation Meeting website.

The three candidates address gaps in our scientific knowledge of a number of dynamic, complex and interdependent Earth-system processes:

Forest carbon

Biomass aims to improve estimates of carbon stocks and fluxes through measurements of forest biomass and how they change over time. These data will help to reduce the uncertainty in the distribution and dynamics of forests, thereby helping to improve present assessments and future projections of the carbon cycle.

Water in snow

CoReH2O aims to fill the gaps in current information on snow, glaciers and surface water. The objective is to improve the modelling and prediction of water balance and streamflow for snow-covered and glacierised basins, the modelling of water and energy cycles at high latitudes, and the forecasting of water supply from snow cover and glaciers, including the relation to climate change and variability.

Chemistry in the atmosphere

PREMIER aims to advance our understanding of the processes that link trace gases, radiation and chemistry in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. The radiative effects of water and clouds are at a maximum in this region. It is also a region characterised by small-scale processes that have not been studied by previous missions.

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