Copernicus Sentinel-6 satellite launches to monitor sea levels

Copernicus Sentinel-6 satellite launches to monitor sea levels

With a SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully completing the launch, the new satellite – the latest in a series of satellites developed jointly by Europe and the USA – is intended to track rising sea levels using the latest radar altimetry technology.

According to the European Space Agency, these measurements are essential for climate science and for policy-making.

Lift off

Carrying the 1.2 tonne Sentinel-6 satellite, the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on 21 November.


The satellite was delivered into orbit just under an hour after liftoff and contact was successfully established at the ground station in Alaska.

Sea-surface measurements

ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, commented:

“I’m extremely proud to have seen Copernicus Sentinel-6 liftoff this evening and know that it’s well on its way to starting its mission of continuing the measurements of sea level that are so needed to understand and monitor the worrying trend of rising seas.”

“I would not only like to thank the ESA teams that have worked so hard to get to this point, but also the EC, Eumetsat, NASA, NOAA and CNES, and, of course, we very much look forward to further fruitful cooperation between our respective organisations.”

Sea-surface height measurements began in 1992 and the Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is intended to soon pick up the baton and extend this ocean topography dataset.

The mission comprises two identical satellites launched sequentially, states the ESA, so in five years, Copernicus Sentinel-6B will be launched to take over. The mission as a whole will ensure the continuity of data until at least 2030, it says.

Altimeters and radiometers

Each satellite carries a radar altimeter, which works by measuring the time it takes for radar pulses to travel to Earth’s surface and back again to the satellite. Combined with precise satellite location data, altimetry measurements yield the height of the sea surface.

The satellites’ instrument package also includes an advanced microwave radiometer that accounts for the amount of water vapour in atmosphere, which affects the speed of the altimeter’s radar pulses.

You can read more on the ESA website.

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