Sentinel Satellites of the Copernicus Programme

sentinel satellites copernicus programme
The Sentinel family of satellites observe our land, ocean and atmosphere from space. All data captured from these satellites are free of charge to encourage maximum use. On top of that, data is available 24/7 and 365 days a year. Photo: ESA;

Last Updated: Aug 15, 2018

Global Monitoring for Environmental Security (GMES)

Copernicus is the world’s largest and most ambitious Earth observation program in existence today.

Previously known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), it aims to tackle environmental challenges with a fleet of autonomous satellites.

From global warming to land use change and the atmosphere, Copernicus gathers Earth data from space.

And in the center of it all is its Sentinel family of satellites.

List of Sentinel Satellites

Already, Copernicus has launched several satellites including Sentinel-1, Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3. Because of its success, there are plans to launch several more.

All data captured from these satellites are free of charge to encourage maximum use. On top of that, data is available 24/7 and 365 days a year.

In general, each Sentinel mission has two twin satellites flying in the same orbit. The reason for this is because it gives better coverage and shortens revisit times.

Whether it’s land, ocean or the atmosphere, each Sentinel satellite has a specific duty. As shown below, here are the specifications for each one.

READ MORE: How to Download Free Sentinel Satellite Data

1 Sentinel-1

sentinel-1 satellite
Photo: ESA;

During day and night, Sentinel-1’s instrument sees through cloud and haze using synthetic aperture radar (SAR). At 9-40 meters pixel resolution, Sentinel-1 C-band (C-SAR) is polar orbiting.

First, the satellite sends microwave pulses to Earth. Next, the pulse hits the Earth and returns back to the satellite. Finally, the sensor makes an image from the returned echoes.

Specifically tailored to emergency response, Sentinel-1 can assist in deriving flood maps to plan for mitigation and even minute changes in volcanic activity.

READ MORE: Learn Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) by Example

Mode Swath Resolution
Strip Map 80 km 5 x 5 m
Interferometric Wide Swath 250 km 5 x 20 m
Extra-Wide Swath 400 km 25 x 100 m
Wave-Mode 20 km x 20 km 5 x 20 m

2 Sentinel-2

sentinel-2
Photo: ESA;

Sentinel-2 monitors the land with a multispectral instrument which includes coastal, red, green, blue, near-infrared and short-wave infrared.

Every five days, Sentinel 2A and 2B capture land changes in 12 spectral bands. With a revisit time of 5 days, each band ranges from 10-60 meters in pixel size.

For us GIS professionals, this is a game changer in free satellite imagery. Instead of 30 meter true color images from Landsat data, we now have access to sharper 10-meter Sentinel-2 imagery. A much needed improvement.

READ MORE: Multispectral vs Hyperspectral Imagery Explained

Band Resolution Central Wavelength Description
B1 60 m 443 nm Ultra blue (Coastal and Aerosol)
B2 10 m 490 nm Blue
B3 10 m 560 nm Green
B4 10 m 665 nm Red
B5 20 m 705 nm Visible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B6 20 m 740 nm Visible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B7 20 m 783 nm Visible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B8 10 m 842 nm Visible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B8a 20 m 865 nm Visible and Near Infrared (VNIR)
B9 60 m 940 nm Short Wave Infrared (SWIR)
B10 60 m 1375 nm Short Wave Infrared (SWIR)
B11 20 m 1610 nm Short Wave Infrared (SWIR)
B12 20 m 2190 nm Short Wave Infrared (SWIR)

3 Sentinel-3

sentinel-3
Photo: ESA;

As oceans cover 70% of Earth, they make an important piece of the puzzle for understanding global climate change. In combination with Sentinel-6, the purpose of Sentinel-3 is primarily for monitoring our oceans in detail such as temperature, color and heights.

At 300-1200 meter resolution, Sentinel-3 will have a less than 2 days revisit time. Because of its large resolution, this is ideal for getting the complete picture of Earth’s heating and cooling system from oceans.

4 Sentinel-4

sentinel-4
Photo: ESA;

Unlike Sentinel-1, 2 and 3, Sentinel-4 will monitor the atmospheric chemistry from a geostationary orbit. This means the satellite is not rotating but it is fixed in high orbit looking at a specific part of Earth.

And Sentinel-4 will not be it’s own satellite, but it will be an instrument onboard MTG-S. In 2022, it’s set to launch with 8 km resolution and a 1 hour revisit time.

5 Sentinel-5

sentinel-5
Photo: ESA;

Sentinel-5 monitors air pollution in the atmosphere from a sun-synchronous orbit. For example, it will capture ozone, NO2, SO2, CO, aerosol and trace gases.

In a low orbit, its spectral bands range from ultraviolet, visible, near and short-wavelength infrared. Because Sentinel-5 will have a broad 7-50 kilometer resolution, it will have a short revisit time of only one day.

6 Sentinel-6

Finally, Sentinel-6 will concentrate on oceanic activity. Similar to NASA’s Jason-1 and 2, this satellite is meant to measure ocean height. Complimenting Sentinel-3, it will work together for a comprehensive picture of Earth’s oceans.

The primary instrument onboard Sentinel-6 will be a radar altimeter. From radar altimetry, we can map out global sea surface levels with higher precision.

7 Sentinel-7

As plans are still in the works, we don’t have any concrete information available for Sentinel-7. From what is rumored, Sentinel-7 is believed to monitor carbon dioxide (CO2) and atmospheric pollution.

8 Sentinel-8

Nothing is set in stone for Sentinel-8 yet. But Sentinel-8 is rumored to be a thermal infrared sensor for understanding drought, forest fires and volcanic activity.

9 Sentinel-9

There is some speculation that Sentinel-9 could be a polar mission to understand ice thickness and improve weather imaging.

10 Sentinel-10

Finally, Sentinel-10 could be a hyperspectral mission. As there is a clear gap in hyperspectral satellite data, this could be extremely useful for applications such as mining, agriculture and environment.

2 Comments

  1. I have a question. Is it effective to use object based image classification for sentinel satellite imagery?

    Thanks.

  2. Hmmm… generally eCognition is better for high resolution data sets. It may have some value for using with Sentinel-2, but you’re soon hitting that threshold where pixel-based classification would be just as effective

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