Satellite set to monitor Earth's atmospheric chemistry

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Astrium has signed a €45.5m (£39m) contract to build a satellite that could improve our understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The company has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the prime contractor for the Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite — a mission to monitor atmospheric chemistry.

As part of a total satellite programme of more than €80m (£68.6m), UK industry will deliver the mission platform and significant elements of the instrument of this mission.

David Willetts, minister for universities and science, said: ‘This project is yet more evidence of the UK’s world-leading position in satellite technology and will play an important role in understanding climate change.’

The Sentinel-5 Precursor mission is part of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme (GMES), which is a joint undertaking of the European Community and the ESA.

GMES claims it will supply geo-information products and services, helping European institutions and public authorities to fulfil their mission of safeguarding the civil population, managing risks and protecting the environment.

The single-satellite, low-cost mission aims to bridge the observation gap predicted for when the current atmospheric chemistry measuring satellite ENVISAT reaches the end of its operations.

Both ENVISAT and ERS-2 missions have had major UK scientific involvement, and the Sentinel-5 pre-cursor mission will help maintain a stream of more than 20 years of data on climate change.

With a launch scheduled for early 2015 and a seven-year lifetime, the Sentinel-5 pre-cursor mission will maintain the continuity of science data before the Sentinel-5 instrument becomes operational towards the end of this decade. The Sentinel 5 instrument is scheduled to fly on the MetOp Second Generation satellites in a polar orbit.