ESA Copernicus: Revolutionizing Earth Observation for a Sustainable Future


The European Space Agency (ESA) Copernicus program represents a groundbreaking initiative aimed at revolutionizing Earth observation and providing valuable data for addressing environmental and societal challenges.

The Copernicus program comprises a constellation of satellites, known as the Sentinel missions, equipped with cutting-edge sensors designed to capture high-resolution imagery and collect vital environmental data. These satellites are complemented by ground-based measurement systems, and data-processing infrastructure, forming an integrated network that enables comprehensive monitoring of Earth’s land, oceans, atmosphere, and climate.

Sentinel Satellite Missions

Sentinel family of satellites
Source: ESA

The Copernicus program currently operates several Sentinel missions, each focusing on specific Earth observation objectives:

Satellite Purpose Status
Sentinel-1A This mission utilizes synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to provide all-weather, day-and-night imaging capabilities, enabling continuous monitoring of Earth’s surface for applications like maritime surveillance, land deformation monitoring, and emergency mapping during natural disasters. Launched on 3 April 2014. Operational
Sentinel-1B Launched on 25 April 2016. It has been inactive since a power anomaly on 23 December 2021. Inactive
Sentinel-1C Launch planned for 2023. N/A
Sentinel-2A Provides high-resolution optical imaging for land services, including imagery of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways, and coastal areas. It also provides information for emergency services. Launched on 23 June 2015. Operational
Sentinel-2B Launched on 7 March 2017. Operational
Sentinel-3 This mission focuses on ocean and global land monitoring, measuring sea surface temperature, ocean color, and sea-level changes. It also provides data on land surface temperatures, vegetation indices, and fire detection, aiding in climate research and marine ecosystem monitoring. The Sentinel-3A satellite was launched on 16 February 2016 and Sentinel-3B on 25 April 2018. Operational
Sentinel-4 Will provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring as a payload upon a Meteosat Third Generation satellite. It is scheduled to be launched in 2024. N/A
Sentinel-5 Precursor Provides data for global atmospheric composition and air quality. Launched on 13 October 2017, its primary purpose is to reduce the data gap between the loss of Envisat in 2012 and the launch of Sentinel-5 in 2024. Operational
Sentinel-5 Will provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring. Three launches are scheduled for 2024, 2031, and 2038. N/A
Sentinel-6 Intended to provide continuity in high precision altimetry sea level measurements following the Jason-3 satellite. Sentinel-6A was launched in November 2020, and Sentinel-6B is scheduled for launch in 2025. Operational

Key Applications

The ESA Copernicus program has achieved remarkable milestones since its inception, yielding valuable insights and fostering numerous applications:

Applications Benefits
Environmental Management Supports natural resource management, biodiversity conservation, and urban planning.
Climate Research Aids in modeling climate change patterns, assessing impacts, and informing climate policies.
Disaster Response Enables rapid mapping, damage assessment, and targeted disaster management.
Sustainable Development Supports progress monitoring in agriculture, energy, water management, and urban planning.

Copernicus Data and Services

One of the cornerstones of the Copernicus program is the free and open availability of its data and services to users worldwide. The vast repository of Copernicus data, accessible through the Copernicus Open Access Hub, fosters innovation and empowers researchers, industries, and governments to develop innovative applications and services. This open data policy ensures widespread use of the information for societal benefit, economic growth, and scientific advancements.

Usage of Copernicus data has been increasing year over year: In 2022, the 68 millionth data package was published on the Open Access Hub and on average almost 40,000 data packages were published per day. Moreover, the number of registered users on the Open Access Hub increased again, from 496,382 users at the end of 2021 to 638,259 by the end of 2022, and there were 108 countries across the world with more than 500 registered users, a rise from 96 at the end of 2021.

Looking to the Future

ESA is currently developing six Copernicus Sentinel Expansion Missions to address EU policy, gaps in Copernicus user needs, and to expand Copernicus space capabilities.

Copernicus Sentinel Expansion Missions


The ESA Copernicus program stands as a beacon of technological prowess, harnessing the power of satellite systems and advanced data analytics to provide important insights into our planet’s dynamic processes. With its comprehensive monitoring capabilities, the Copernicus program offers indispensable support for environmental management, climate research, disaster response, and sustainable development initiatives.

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