Oct 13, 2017

European Space Agency successfully launches British pollution-monitoring satellite into orbit

The Sentinel-5P satellite will provide rapid accurate pollution data which could prevent thousands of early deaths each year


The British-built Sentinel-5P satellite which could saves thousands of deaths caused by pollution has been launched in to orbit today.

There were cheers at the European Space Agency's technical hub in the Netherlands when the £50 million satellite successfully communicated with Earth at 12.01pm UK time.

The satellite has been nine years in planning and was built at the Airbus factory in Stevenage. It will now provide rapid accurate pollution data which could prevent thousands of early deaths each year by tracking deadly smog clouds.

There was a hushed silence as the Sentinel-5P was launched at 10.27am UK time from a remote location in northern Russia on a missile built to carry a nuclear warhead.

There then followed around an hour and a half when space scientists had no way of knowing where the unmanned aircraft was and if it was on track to successfully enter the Earth's orbit.

Celebrations started when the state-of-the-art atmosphere imaging satellite "talked" to handlers on earth to tell them it was ok.

The UK-led project to analyse Earth's atmosphere has seen two teams of Brits sent to the Russian region of Plesetsk and the ESA technical hub at Noordwijk in the Netherlands.

Kevin McMullan, the Sentinel-5P mission leader at the Estec centre in Noordwijk, has been spearheading the project for the nine years it has been in preparation.

"Now we can isolate better than ever before the origins of pollution," he told the Mirror.

"We can point the finger of blame and say this is coming from this source. Then it's up to government's and control agencies to do something about it.

"We will provide the data and it's up to governments to give us the policies to tackle this."

Sentinel-5P will provide crucial pollution data within three hours of detecting it to allow the Met Office and health agencies to issue warnings when about when vulnerable people should stay indoors.

It comes as Brexit has thrown the UK's future role with the European Space Agency in to uncertainty.

Jan Worner, ESA's director general, said: "This is a successful cooperation between the European Union and ESA.

"I thank everyone involved who have made this such a success and let's look forward to cooperating more intensely for this Earth."

The nail biting moment came shortly after midday was when Sentinel-5P - already in space after separating from the rocket 14.5 minutes earlier - made its first call home.

That moment is one of the riskiest for the £215 million mission. Its rocket must have provided the right boost to put it into the planned orbit.

Only when scientists on the ground successfully achieve "acquisition of signal" can the celebrations can begin.

It will now be in orbit gathering crucial data for seven years.

French and German-owned Airbus employs 15,000 people in the UK including at its Stevenage plant.

The Sentinel-5P was flown from the UK to Plesetsk via Moscow on September 5.

Kevin continued: "This will point the finger of blame so we know where action needs to be taken.

"Pollution is a very serious issue for us and if you look at the World Health Organisation figures for 2012 then 3.7 million people died because of pollution.

"The air pollution we are looking at is from factories, car exhausts and the sea level ozone pollution.

"When we sea future government policies like banning petrol cars we will be in a position to observe from orbit and monitor that as well as help governments create new initiatives in the future.

"It was only from space travel in the early 1970s we saw the holes in the ozone layer. We discovered that and it lead to the banning of CFC gasses.

"As a consequence we know things are recovering. In 2030-40 we should get back to the pre-CFC level of ozone layer but we need to continue checking that."

Britain's Sentinel-5P to carrying out constant details analysis of the Earth's atmosphere is the latest in a series of satellite launches as part of the ESA's Copernicus programme.

Copernicus is the largest Earth monitoring programme. Previous missions have analysed land, the oceans and ice levels.

After seven years when the satellite is no longer working the ESA requires that the Sentinel-5P has enough fuel remaining to "de-orbit".

If not it would join the old satellites which make up the space debris orbiting the planet for around 250 years before they break up.

Sentinel-5P will fire its boosters and head back towards the Earth's atmosphere to hopefully burn up upon re-entry.


by Martin Bagot