Paris, 26 March 2002
Initial results from an ambitious health check of the whole planet Earth are due to be released by ESA on Thursday, 28 March. The Agency is set to unveil the first images returned from the Envisat satellite, the largest and most complex Earth observation spacecraft ever flown.
Successfully launched by an Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou spaceport on 1 March, the eight tonne spacecraft is designed to continue observations carried out by ESA’s ERS spacecraft during the last decade – and so add to the ongoing body of valuable environmental data – as well as monitor many additional components of our planetary system.
The spacecraft carries ten separate instruments to enable simultaneous monitoring of land, oceans, ice fields and the atmosphere. This combined data should enable us to keep track of their complex interactions, and help answer urgent questions on how human activities may be altering our environment.
As soon as Envisat achieved its orbit - some 800 km above our heads – engineers at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, commenced the delicate task of activating each of its instruments in turn. At the same time, hundreds of people worldwide began a massive effort to verify the data the instruments started to send back.
Across the globe, sensors carried by balloon, ships and planes – as well as observers stationed on the ground from Antarctica to the Sahara Desert – are taking in-situ readings of their surroundings, to be checked against what Envisat shows from space. This continuing verification and calibration campaign is scheduled to last six months, after which Envisat should be declared operational.
Envisat’s instruments are already returning raw data to Earth, which are processed at a new facility at ESA’s ESRIN establishment in Frascati, Italy. The team at ESRIN are using specialized algorithms to ‘fine-tune’ this string of digital bits into processed material scientists will be able to use.
Once Envisat enters its operational phase, scientific researchers and industry across the planet will be able to access its data. For now, the very first Envisat results will be released to the press at ESRIN – and also here at the ESA Portal – this Thursday.