Minimize Copernicus: Sentinel-3

Copernicus: Sentinel-3 — Global Sea/Land Monitoring Mission including Altimetry

Spacecraft     Launch    Mission Status     Sensor Complement    Ground Segment    References

The Sentinel-3 (S3) mission of ESA and the EC is one of the elements of the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) program, which responds to the requirements for operational and near-real-time monitoring of ocean, land and ice surfaces over a period of 20 years. The topography element of this mission will serve primarily the marine operational users but will also allow the monitoring of sea ice and land ice, as well as inland water surfaces, using novel observation techniques.The Sentinel-3 mission is designed as a constellation of two identical polar orbiting satellites, separated by 180º, for the provision of long-term operational marine and land monitoring services. The operational character of this mission implies a high level of availability of the data products and fast delivery time, which have been important design drivers for the mission. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9) 10) 11) 12) 13) 14)

The Sentinel-3 program represents a series of operational spacecraft over the envisioned service period to guarantee access to an uninterrupted flow of robust global data products.

Copernicus is the new name of the European Commission's Earth Observation Programme, previously known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). The new name was announced on December 11, 2012, by EC (European Commission) Vice-President Antonio Tajani during the Competitiveness Council.

In the words of Antonio Tajani: “By changing the name from GMES to Copernicus, we are paying homage to a great European scientist and observer: Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). As he was the catalyst in the 16th century to better understand our world, so the European Earth Observation Programme gives us a thorough understanding of our changing planet, enabling concrete actions to improve the quality of life of the citizens. Copernicus has now reached maturity as a programme and all its services will enter soon into the operational phase. Thanks to greater data availability user take-up will increase, thus contributing to that growth that we so dearly need today.”

Table 1: Copernicus is the new name of the former GMES program 15)

The main observation objectives of the mission are summarized in the following list:

• Ocean and land color observation data, free from sun-glint, shall have a revisit time of 4 days (2 days goal) and a quality at least equivalent to that of Meris instrument on Envisat. The actual revisit obtained over ocean at the equator (worst case) is less than 3.8 days with a single satellite and drops below 1.9 days with 2 satellites, phased 180° on the same orbital plane.

• Ocean and land surface temperature shall be acquired with at least the level of quality of AATSR on Envisat, and shall have a maximum revisit time of 4 days with dual view (high accuracy) observations and 1 day with single view. Achieved performance is shown to be significantly better, even with a single satellite (dual view: 3.5 days max, 1.8 days average).

• Surface topography observations shall primarily cover the global ocean and provide sea surface height (SSH) and significant wave height (SWH) to an accuracy and precision at least equivalent to that of RA-2 on Envisat. Additionally, Sentinel-3 shall provide surface elevation measurements -in continuity to CryoSat-2 - over ice regions covered by the selected orbit, as well as measurements of in-land water surfaces (rivers and lakes).

In addition, Sentinel-3 will provide surface vegetation products derived from synergistic and co-located measurements of optical instruments, similar to those obtained from the Vegetation instrument on SPOT, and with complete Earth coverage in 1 to 2 days.

The EU Marine Core Service (MCS) and the Land Monitoring Core Service (LMCS), together with the ESA GMES Service Element (GSE), have been consolidating those services where continuity and success depends on operational data flowing from the Sentinels.

The operational character of the mission implies a high level of availability of the data products and fast delivery time, which have been important design drivers for the mission.


Figure 1: Artist's rendition of the deployed Sentinel-3 spacecraft (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab) 16)

Legend to Figure 1: Sentinel-3 is arguably the most comprehensive of all the Sentinel missions for Europe’s Copernicus programme. Carrying a suite of state-of-the-art instruments, it provides systematic measurements of Earth’s oceans, land, ice and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics and provide critical information for ocean and weather forecasting.


The Sentinel-3 spacecraft is being built by TAS-F (Thales Alenia Space-France). A contract to this effect was signed on April 14, 2008. The spacecraft is 3-axis stabilized, with nominal pointing towards the local normal and yaw steering to compensate for the Earth rotation affecting the optical observations. The spacecraft has a launch mass of about 1150 kg, the height dimension is about 3.9 m. The overall power consumption is 1100 W. The design life is 7.5 years, with ~100 kg of hydrazine propellant for 12 years of operations, including deorbiting at the end.

AOCS (Attitude and Orbit Control Subsystem): The spacecraft is 3-axis stabilized based on the new generation of avionics for the TAS-F LEO (Low Earth Orbit) platform. The AOCS software of the GMES/Sentinel-3 project is of PROBA program heritage. NGC Aerospace Ltd (NGC) of Sherbrooke, (Québec), Canada was responsible for the design, implementation and validation of the autonomous GNC (Guidance, Navigation and Control) algorithms implemented as part of the AOCS software of PROBA-1, PROBA-2, and PROBA-V. 17)

Spacecraft launch mass, design life

~1150 kg, 7.5 years (fuel for additional 5 years)

Spacecraft bus dimensions

3.9 m (height) x 2.2 m x 2.21 m

Spacecraft structure

Build around a CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics) central tube and shear webs

AOCS (Attitude and Orbit Control Subsystem)

- 3 axis stabilization
- Gyroless in nominal mode, thanks to a high performance
- Multi-head star tracker (HYDRA) and GNSS receiver.
- Use of thrusters only in Orbit Control Mode.

Pointing type

Geodetic + yaw steering

Absolute pointing error
Absolute measurement error

< 0.1º
< 0.015º

Thermal control

- Passive control with SSM radiators
- Active control of the bus centralized on the SMU (Satellite Management Unit)
- Autonomous thermal control management for most of the sensors.

EPS (Electrical Power Subsystem)

- Unregulated power bus, with a Li-ion battery and GaAs solar array.
- Solar Array 1 wing, 3 panels , 10.5 m2, power of 2300 W EOL,
- Average power consumption in nominal mode: up to 1100 W


- Stepper motor SADM (Solar Array Drive Mechanism)
- Synchronized solar array hold-down and deployment mechanism


- Monopropellant (hydrazine) operating in blow-down mode
- Two sets of four 1 N thrusters/propellant mass: ~100 kg

Data handling and software

Centralized SMU running applications for all spacecraft subsystems processing tasks, complemented by a PDHU (Payload Data Handling Unit) for instruments data acquisition and formatting before transmission to the ground segment.

Operational autonomy

27 days

Table 2: Overview of Sentinel-3 spacecraft parameters

Data handling architecture: The requirements for the Sentinel-3 data handling architecture call for: a) minimized development risks, b) system at minimum cost, c) operational system over 20 years. This has led to design architecture as robust as possible using a single SMU (Satellite Management Unit) computer as the platform controller, a single PDHU (Payload Data-Handling Unit) for mission data management, and to reuse existing qualified heritage. 18)

The payload accommodates 6 instruments, sources of mission data. The 3 high rate instruments provide mission data directly collected through the SpaceWire network, while the low rate instruments are acquired by the central computer for distribution through the SpaceWire network to the mass memory. The PDHU acquires and stores all mission data for latter multiplexing, formatting, encryption and encoding for download to the ground.

The payload architecture is built-up over a SpaceWire network (Figure 2) for direct collection of high rate SLSTR, OLCI and SRAL instruments and indirect collection of low rate MWR, GNSS and DORIS instrument data plus house-keeping data through the Mil-Std-1553 bus by the SMU, all data being acquired from SpaceWire links and managed by the PDHU.

The mission data budget is easily accommodated thanks to the SpaceWire performance. Each SpaceWire link being dedicated to point-to-point communication without interaction on the other links (no routing), the frequency is set according to the need plus a significant margin. The PDHU is able to handle the 4 SpaceWire sources at up to 100 Mbit/s.

All mission data sources (OLCI, SLSTR, SRAL and SMU) provide data through two cold redundant interfaces and harnesses. The PDHU, being critical as the central point of the mission data management, implements a full cross-strapping between nominal and redundant sources interfaces and its nominal and redundant sides.


Figure 2: SpaceWire architecture of the Sentinel-3 spacecraft (image credit: TAS-F)

The PDHU SpaceWire interfaces are performed thanks to a specific FPGA, the instrument’s ones are based on the ESA Atmel SMCS-332, while the SMU interfaces are implemented by an EPICA ASIC circuit developed by Thales Alenia Space.


Figure 3: Schematic view of a full cross-strap redundancy within the PDHU (image credit: TAS-F, Ref. 18)

RF communications: The S-band is used for TT&C transmissions The S-band downlink rate is 123 kbit/s or 2 Mbit/s, the uplink data rate is 64 kbit/s. The X-band provide the payload data downlink at a rate of 520 Mbit/s. An onboard data storage capacity of 300 Gbit (EOL) is provided for payload data.

Four categories of data products will be delivered: ocean color, surface topography, surface temperature (land and sea) and land. The surface topography products will be delivered with three timeliness levels: NRT (Near-Real Time, 3 hours), STC (Standard Time Critical, 1-2 days) and NTC (Non-Time Critical, 1 month). Slower products allow more accurate processing and better quality. NRT products are ingested into numerical weather prediction and seastate prediction models for quick, short term forecasts. STC products are ingested into ocean models for accurate present state estimates and forecasts. NTC products are used in all high-precision climatological applications, such as sealevel estimates.

The resulting analysis and forecast products and predictions from ocean and atmosphere adding data from other missions and in situ observations, are the key products delivered to users. They provide a robust basis for downstream value-added products and specialized user services.

Introduction of new technology: A newly developed MEMS rate sensor (gyroscope), under the name of SiREUS, will be demonstrated on the AOCS of Sentinel-3. The gyros will be used for identifying satellite motion and also to place it into a preset attitude in association with optical sensors after its separation from the launcher, for Sun and Earth acquisition. Three of the devices will fly inside an integrated gyro unit, each measuring a different axis of motion, with a backup unit ensuring system redundancy. Each unit measures 11 cm x 11 cm x 7 cm, with an overall mass of 750 grams. 19)

The SiREUS device is of SiRRS-01 heritage, a single-axis rate sensor built by AIS (Atlantic Inertial Systems Ltd., UK), which is using a ’vibrating structure gyro’, with a silicon ring fixed to a silicon structure and set vibrating by a small electric current. The SiRRS-01 MEMS gyro has been used in the automobile industry. These devices are embedded throughout modern cars: MEMS accelerometers trigger airbags, MEMS pressure sensors check tires and MEMS gyros help to prevent brakes locking and maintain traction during skids. - In a special project, ESA selected the silicon-based SiRRS-01 to have it modified for space use (and under the new name of SiREUS).


Figure 4: Photo of the MEMS rate sensor (image credit: ESA)


Figure 5: Alternate view of the Sentinel-3 spacecraft and the accommodation of the payload (image credit: ESA)


Figure 6: Photo of the Sentinel-3A spacecraft in the cleanroom of Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France with the solar wings attached (image credit: ESA, A. Le Floc’h) 20)

Status of project development:

• April 13, 2018: The team of propulsion experts has spent two days carrying out the tricky task of fuelling the Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite with 130 kg of hydrazine and pressurizing the tank for its life in orbit. 21) 22)

- Since hydrazine is extremely toxic, only specialists remained in the cleanroom for the duration. A doctor and security staff waited nearby with an ambulance and fire engine ready to respond to any problems.

- The satellite is scheduled for liftoff on 25 April from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 17:57 GMT (19:57 CEST).

- In orbit it will join its identical twin, Sentinel-3A, which was launched in 2016. This pairing of satellites provides the best coverage and data delivery for Copernicus.

- Sentinel-3B is the seventh Sentinel satellite to be launched for Copernicus. Its launch will complete the constellation of the first set of Sentinel missions for Europe’s Copernicus program.


Figure 7: Fuelling of the Sentinel-3B spacecraft (image credit: Thales Alenia Space)

• March 23, 2018: With the Sentinel-3B satellite now at the Plesetsk launch site in Russia and liftoff set for 25 April, engineers are steaming ahead with the task of getting Europe’s next Copernicus satellite ready for its journey into orbit. 23)

- After arriving at the launch site on 18 March, the satellite has been taken out of its transport container and is being set up for testing. Kristof Gantois, ESA’s Sentinel-3 engineering manager, said, “The satellite’s journey from France was hampered slightly by the freezing winter weather here in Russia, but it’s now safe in the milder cleanroom environment.

- Sentinel-3B will join its twin, Sentinel-3A, in orbit. The pairing of identical satellites provides the best coverage and data delivery for Europe’s Copernicus program – the largest environmental monitoring program in the world.


Figure 8: Following its arrival at Russia’s Plesetsk launch site, the Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite has been removed from its transport container. The satellite will now be prepared for liftoff, scheduled for 25 April 2018. Its identical twin, Sentinel-3A, has been in orbit since February 2016. The two-satellite constellation offers optimum global coverage and data delivery. The mission has been designed to measure systematically Earth’s oceans, land, ice and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics. It will provide essential information in near-realtime for ocean and weather forecasting (image credit: ESA)

• February 2, 2018: After being put through its paces to make sure it is fit for life in orbit around Earth, the Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite is ready to be packed up and shipped to Russia for liftoff. 24)

- Its twin, Sentinel-3A, has been in orbit since February 2016, systematically measuring our oceans, land, ice and atmosphere. The information feeds a range of practical applications and is used for monitoring and understanding large-scale global dynamics.

- The pairing of identical satellites provides the best coverage and data delivery for Europe’s Copernicus program – the largest environmental monitoring program in the world.

- Sentinel-3B has spent the last year at Thales Alenia Space’s premises in Cannes, France, being assembled and tested, and now it is fit and ready for its journey to the Plesetsk launch site in northern Russia.

- This included putting it in a vacuum chamber, exposing it to extreme temperatures, and we have also simulated the vibrations it will be subjected to during launch. - With liftoff expected to be confirmed for the end of April, the satellite will start its journey to Russia in March.

- Both Sentinel-3 satellites carry a suite of cutting-edge instruments to supply a new generation of data products, which are particularly useful for marine applications. For example, they monitor ocean-surface temperatures for ocean and weather forecasting services, aquatic biological productivity, ocean pollution and sea-level change. — Sentinel-3B also marks a milestone in Europe’s Copernicus program.

- With the Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 pairs already in orbit monitoring our environment, the launch of Sentinel-3B means that three mission constellations will be complete. In addition, Sentinel-5P, a single-satellite mission to monitor air pollution, has been in orbit since October 2017.

- While the Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites circle Earth 180° apart, the configuration for Sentinel-3 will be slightly different: the 140° separation will help to measure ocean features such as eddies as accurately as possible.

- Prior to this, however, they will fly just 223 km apart, which means that Sentinel-3B will be a mere 30 seconds behind Sentinel-3A.

- Flying in tandem like this for around four months is designed to understand any subtle differences between the two sets of instruments – measurements should be almost the same given their brief separation.

- ESA’s ocean scientist, Craig Donlon, explains, “Our Sentinel-3 ocean climate record will eventually be derived from four satellites because we will be launching two further Sentinel-3s in the future.

- “We need to understand the small differences between each successive satellite instrument as these influence our ability to determine accurate climate trends. The Sentinel-3 tandem phase is a fantastic opportunity to do this and will provide results so that climate scientists can use all Sentinel-3 data with confidence.”

• December 5, 2017: EUMETSAT has confirmed the readiness of its teams and the new version of its ground segment to support the launch and commissioning of the Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite in a two-satellite configuration with Sentinel-3A. 25)

- The new version of the ground segment includes enhancements and upgrades necessary to exploit a dual Sentinel-3 system. Its acceptance follows a comprehensive campaign of verification and validation tests.

- During the commissioning of Sentinel-3B, the two Sentinel-3 satellites will fly in close formation, 30 seconds apart. In this phase, ESA will manage Sentinel-3B flight operations, and EUMETSAT will be progressively ramping up its flight control activity to prepare the hand-over, while continuing to perform flight operations of Sentinel-3A.

- The close formation flight will allow to compare thoroughly the measurements from all instruments aboard Sentinel-3A and –B, ensuring the best consistency between the products from the two satellites.

- The completion of commissioning will lead to a handover of the Sentinel-3B satellite from ESA to EUMETSAT once the latter has been moved to it final orbital position, at a 140º phasing from Sentinel-3A, to form the full Sentinel-3 constellation. The 140° phasing was chosen to optimize global coverage and ensure optimized sampling of ocean currents by the combined altimeters on board Sentinel-3A and -3B.

- Thus the Sentinel-3 constellation will also realize the best possible synergy with the cooperative Jason-3 high precision ocean altimeter mission, another Copernicus marine and climate mission exploited by EUMETSAT on behalf of the European Union.

- Under the Copernicus data policy, all Sentinel-3 marine data and products are available on a full, free and open basis to all users through EUMETSAT’s Near Real Time dissemination channels EUMETCast, the Copernicus Online Data Access and EUMETview.

• June 1, 2017: While the Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite is in orbit delivering a wealth of information about our home planet, engineers are putting its twin, Sentinel-3B satellite through a series of vigorous tests before it is shipped to the launch site next year. It is now in the thermal–vacuum chamber at Thales Alenia Space’s facilities in Cannes, France. This huge chamber simulates the huge swings in temperature facing the satellite in space. Once this is over, the satellite will be put through other tests to prepare it for liftoff in the spring 2018. Both Sentinel-3 satellites carry the same suite of cutting-edge instruments to measure oceans, land, ice and atmosphere. 26)


Figure 9: Sentinel-3B being placed in the thermal/vacuum chamber in Cannes, France (image credit: Thales Alenia Space)

• January 14, 2016: Following the Christmas break, the Sentinel-3A satellite has been taken out of its storage container and woken up as the campaign to prepare it for launch resumes at the Russian Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Liftoff is set for 4 February. 27)

• Nov. 20, 2015: The Sentinel-3A spacecraft has left France bound for the Plesetsk launch site in Russia and launch in late December. An Antonov aircraft carries the precious cargo to Arkhangelsk in Russia after a stopover in Moscow to clear paperwork. 28)

• Oct. 15, 2015: Before the latest satellite for Copernicus is packed up and shipped to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia for launch at the end of the year, the media and specialists were given the chance to see this next-generation mission center-stage in the cleanroom. The event was hosted by Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France, where engineers have spent the last few years building and testing Sentinel-3A. 29)

• In December 2014, the Sentinel-3A spacecraft is now fully integrated, hosting a package of different instruments to monitor Earth’s oceans and land. After spending many months carefully piecing the satellite together, it is now being tested in preparation for launch towards the end of 2015. 30)

- Environmental tests will start in early 2015.

• In July 2014, the OLCI instrument was delivered and mounted onto the satellite.

Launch: The Sentinel-3A spacecraft was launched on February 16, 2016 (17.57 GMT) on a Rockot/Briz-KM vehicle of Eurockot Launch Services (a joint venture between Astrium, Bremen and the Khrunichev Space Center, Moscow). The launch site was the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. The satellite separated 79 minutes into the flight. 31) 32)

ESA awarded the contract to Eurockot Launch Services on Feb. 9, 2012. 33)

There are three spacecraft in this series: Sentinel-3A, -3B, and -3C. The second satellite is expected to be launched ~18 months after the first one.

Orbit: Frozen sun-synchronous orbit (14 +7/27 rev./day), mean altitude = 815 km, inclination = 98.6º, LTDN (Local Time on Descending Node) is at 10:00 hours. The revisit time is 27 days providing a global coverage of topography data at mesoscale.

With 1 satellite, the ground inter-track spacing at the equator is 2810 km after 1 day, 750 km after four days, and 104 km after 27 days.

For the altimetry mission, simulations show that this orbit provides an optimal compromise between spatial and temporal sampling for capturing mesoscale ocean structures, offering an improvement on SSH mapping error of up to 44% over Jason - due to improved spatial sampling (Figure )- and 8% over the Envisat 35-day orbit - due to better temporal sampling. After a complete cycle, the track spacing at the equator is approximately 100 km.

The Sentinel-3 mission poses the most demanding POD (Precise Orbit Determination) requirements, specially in the radial component, not only in post-processing on-ground, but also in real-time. This level of accuracy requires dual-frequency receivers. The main objective of the mission is the observation with a radar altimeter of sea surface topography and sea ice measurements (see columns 3, 4, 5 in Table 3).



< 3 hours

< 1-3 days

< 1 month

Radial orbit error (rms)

< 3 m

< 8 cm

< 3 cm

< 2 cm


Support tracking mode changes

Atmospheric dynamics


Global change

Table 3: Error budget requirements in Sentinel-3 as a function of time wrt measurement 34)

Launch: The Sentinel-3B satellite of ESA and the EC was launched on 25 April 2018 (17:57 GMT) on a Rockot/Briz KM vehicle of Eurockot from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia. 35) 36)

The second satellite will be placed in the same orbit with an offset of 140º; this phasing improves interleave between S-3A and S-3B for better SRAL meso-scale sampling of 4-7 days. 37)

Commissioning will include a 4-5 month tandem flight. A tandem phase operation of the A/B pair with ~30 s separation in time between satellites on near identical ground-track for ~4-5 months will be flown during Phase E1.


Figure 10: Tandem phase operations overview (EUMETSAT, ESA, Ref. 37)

With two satellites flying simultaneously, the following coverage will be achieved (Ref. 11):

- Global Ocean color data is recorded with OLCI and SLSTR in less than 1.9 days at the equator, and in less than 1.4 days at latitudes higher than 30º, ignoring cloud effects.

- Global Land color data is recorded with OLCI and SLSTR in less than 1.1 days at the equator, and less than 0.9 days in latitudes higher than 30º.

- Global Surface temperature data is recorded in less than 0.9 days at the equator and in less than 0.8 days in latitudes higher than 30º.

- Continuous altimetry observations where global coverage is achieved after completion of the reference ground track of 27 days.

Note: As of January 2020, the previously single large Sentinel-3 file has been split into two files, to make the file handling manageable for all parties concerned, in particular for the user community.

This article covers the Sentinel-3 mission and its imagery in the period 2020 and 2019

Sentinel-3 imagery in the period 2018-2016

Status of the Sentinel-3 mission

• March 6, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission takes us over part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Most of the archipelago is part of Nunavut – the largest and northernmost territory of Canada. 38)

- The archipelago covers an area of around 1,500,000 km2 and consists of 94 major islands and more than 36,000 minor ones. The archipelago is bound by the Beaufort Sea to the west and by Hudson Bay and the Canadian mainland to the south – largely obscured by clouds in this image.

- The various islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are separated by a series of waterways collectively known as the Northwest Passage. In the past, the Northwest Passage has been impassable owing to its thick, year-round sea ice.

- However, owing to significant changes in the Arctic climate, summer sea ice has decreased substantially and has led to an increasing number of vessels navigating through this once-impossible route.

- According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the sea ice extent in July 2019 declined at an average daily rate of 105,700 km2 – exceeding the 1981 to 2010 average rate of 86,800 km2 per day.

- This image (Figure 11) was captured in the days when several wildfires were burning in the Arctic, specifically Siberia. In this image, a wildfire can be seen on mainland Canada, along the Mackenzie River, and smoke plumes are visible blowing westwards.

- Banks Island – the westernmost island of the Arctic Archipelago – is visible in the center of the image. The island has a large population of Arctic foxes, as well as caribou, polar bears and wolves. A number of glacial lakes can be seen in emerald green on the east side of the island.

- Victoria Island lies to the east of Banks Island, and can be identified with its deeply indented coast. With an area of around 200,000 km2, Victoria Island is only slighter smaller than the island of Great Britain.


Figure 11: In this image of Sentinel-3, captured on 27 July 2019, sea ice can be seen in the waterways of the Canadian Archipelago, as well as broken-up sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. Numerous, large ice floes are seen at the southern margin of the pack ice, and can be seen drifting southwards. As the pack ice drifts and encounters warmer waters, the ice is more prone to rapid melting. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• January 17, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission takes us over the Japanese archipelago – a string of islands that extends about 3000 km into the western Pacific Ocean. 39)

- While the archipelago is made up of over 6000 islands, this image focuses on Japan's four main islands (Figure 12).

- Honshu’s land mass comprises approximately four-fifths of Japan’s total area. Honshu’s main urban areas of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka are clearly visible in the image. The large grey area in the east of the island, near the coast, is Tokyo, while the smaller areas depicted in grey are the areas around Nagoya and Osaka.

- Honshu is also home to the country’s largest mountain, Mount Fuji. A volcano that has been dormant since it erupted in 1707, Mount Fuji is around 100 km southwest of Tokyo and its snow covered summit can be seen as a small white dot.

- The Sea of Japan, also referred to as the East Sea, (visible to the west of the archipelago) separates the country from the east coast of Asia. The turquoise waters surrounding the island of Hokkaido can be seen at the top of the image, while the waters in the right of the image have a silvery hue because of sunglint – an optical effect caused by the mirror-like reflection of sunlight from the water surface back to the satellite sensor.

- Sentinel-3 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring program. Each satellite’s instrument package includes an optical sensor to monitor changes in the color of Earth’s surfaces. It can be used, for example, to monitor ocean biology and water quality.


Figure 12: While the archipelago is made up of over 6000 islands, this image focuses on Japan's four main islands. Running from north to south, Hokkaido is visible in the top right corner, Honshu is the long island stretching in a northeast–southwest arc, Shikoku can be seen just beneath the lower part of Honshu, and Kyushu is at the bottom. This image, which was captured on 24 May 2019, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• January 9, 2020: Ferocious bushfires have been sweeping across Australia since September, fuelled by record-breaking temperatures, drought and wind. The country has always experienced fires, but this season has been horrific. A staggering 10 million hectares of land have been burned, at least 24 people have been killed and it has been reported that almost half a billion animals have perished. 40)

- Photographs and film footage have without doubt left the world shocked, but the view from space shows the scale of what Australians are having to deal with.

- New South Wales has been worst hit. The Copernicus Sentinel-3 image of Figure 14 shows smoke pouring from numerous fires in the state on 3 January.

Figure 13: While this image was captured by the mission’s OLCI (Ocean and Land Color Instrument), which offers camera-like images, the mission’s SLSTR (Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer) instrument can record fire hotspots. This instrument works like a thermometer in the sky, measuring thermal infrared radiation to take the temperature of Earth’s land surfaces. The instrument’s two dedicated fire channels are used to compile the World Fire Atlas. The animation here shows how the number of fires increased between October 2019 and January 2020. The measurements were taken by the Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite at night only, and since the spatial resolution is limited to 1 km, the animation, as shocking as it is, actually underestimates the number of fires (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-2020), processed by ESA)


Figure 14: This Copernicus Sentinel-3 image shows smoke pouring from numerous fires in New South Wales on 3 January 2020 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• November 13, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission captured the multiple bushfires burning across Australia’s east coast. Around 150 fires are still burning in New South Wales and Queensland, with hot and dry conditions accompanied with strong winds, said to be spreading the fires. 41)

- Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed, and many residents evacuated. Flame retardant was dropped in some of Sydney’s suburbs as bushfires approached the city center. Firefighters continue to keep the blazes under control.

- The Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated to help respond to the fires. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community, respond to emergencies.

- Quantifying and monitoring fires is fundamental for the ongoing study of climate, as they have a significant impact on global atmospheric emissions. Data from the Copernicus Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas shows that there were almost five times as many wildfires in August 2019 compared to August 2018.


Figure 15: In this image, captured on 12 November 2019 at 23:15 UTC (13 November 09:15 local time), the fires burning near the coast are visible. Plumes of smoke can be seen drifting east over the Tasman Sea. Hazardous air quality owing to the smoke haze has reached the cities of Sydney and Brisbane and is affecting residents, the Australian Environmental Department has warned (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• October 25, 2019: Wildfires have been making headlines again this month, with multiple fires burning in Lebanon and California, but these are just some of the many fires 2019 has seen. Fires in the Amazon sparked a global outcry this summer, but fires have also been blazing in the Arctic, France, Greece, Indonesia as well as many other areas in the world. 42)

Figure 16: Fires around the world. Global fires detected in August 2018 compared to August 2019. The Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas recorded 79,000 wildfires in August 2019, compared to just over 16,000 fires during the same period in 2018 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA on ONDA Copernicus DIAS)

- Data from the Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas shows that there were almost five times as many wildfires in August 2019 compared to August 2018, but a detailed analysis reveals precisely where these fires have been occurring – most of which were in Asia.

- The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission recorded 79,000 fires in August this year, compared to just over 16,000 fires detected during the same period last year. These figures were achieved by using data from the Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas Prototype, which is also able to provide a breakdown of these fires per continent.


Figure 17: The trend of wildfires detected in 2019 are shown in red, while fires detected in 2018 can be seen in green. The Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas shows 70,000 fires in August 2019, compared to just over 16,632 fires in August 2018 (image credit: ESA)

- The data reveals 49% of fires were detected in Asia, around 28% were detected in South America, 16% in Africa, and the remaining were recorded in North America, Europe and Oceania.

- Working like thermometers in the sky, the sensors on satellites measure thermal infrared radiation to take the temperature of Earth's land surfaces. This information is used to detect and monitor the heat emitted by the fires.

- Using its two dedicated fire channels, the Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas uses a simplified operational version derived from Wooster et al. 2012 in order to identify all active fires at night.

- Data gathered are used to plot the number of fires occurring monthly. The number of input images from Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite were around the same from one year to the other.


Figure 18: Out of the 79,000 wildfires detected in 2019, this pie chart shows the breakdown of the fires by continent. Around half of the fires were detected in Asia, 28% in South America, 16% in Africa and the remaining in Europe, Oceania and North America (image credit: ESA)

- Even if the atlas cannot pick up all fires due to satellite overpass constraints and cloud coverage, it is statistically representative from one month to the other and from one year to the other.

- ESA’s Olivier Arino comments, “We have never seen an increase of wildfires of this kind since the ATSR World Fire Atlas was created in 1995.”

- Quantifying and monitoring fires is important for the ongoing study of climate because they have a significant impact on global atmospheric emissions, with biomass burning contributing to the global budgets of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide.

- One of the biggest problems during and after fires is obtaining an overall view of the fires evolution and potential damage. With fires seen from space, Earth observation is also being used to detect and monitor the active spots over affected areas.

• October 18, 2019: The Korean Peninsula in East Asia can be seen in this image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission. The peninsula is over 900 km long and is located between the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, to the east and the Yellow Sea to the west. 43)

- The peninsula is divided into two countries – the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

- North Korea is divided into nine provinces, with Pyongyang as the capital. Pyongyang, which can be seen in light grey in the upper left of the image, lies on the banks of the Taedong River and on a flat plain about 50 km inland from the Korea Bay.

- The capital of South Korea is Seoul, which is in the northwest of the country, slightly inland and around 50 km south of the North Korean border.

- As the image shows, the Korean peninsula is mostly mountainous and rocky, making less than 20% of the land suitable for farming.

- The Yellow Sea owes its name to the silt-laden waters from the Chinese rivers that empty into it. It is also one of the largest shallow areas of continental shelf in the world with an average depth of around 50 m.

- The waters off the coast of Korea are considered among the best in the world for fishing. The warm and cold currents attract a wide variety of species and the numerous islands, inlets and reefs provide excellent fishing grounds.


Figure 19: This image, which was captured on 21 May 2019 on Sentinel-3, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• October 10, 2019: This enormous typhoon Hagibis, which is being compared to a Category 5 hurricane, can be seen in this image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission on 10 October at 01:00 GMT (10:00 Japan Standard Time). The eye of the storm has a diameter of approximately 60 km. 44)


Figure 20: Typhoon Hagibis is headed towards Japan’s main island of Honshu, where it is expected to make landfall over the weekend. Japan is bracing for potential damage from strong winds and torrential rain (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• September 3, 2019: This Copernicus Sentinel-3 image features Hurricane Dorian as it pummels the Bahamas on 2 September 2019 at 15:16 GMT (11:16 EDT). This mighty storm has been parked over the northwest Bahamas for more than 24 hours unleashing a siege of devastation. Storm surges, wind and rain have claimed at least five lives and destroyed homes and infrastructure. 45)

- Dorian is reported to be one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record. Residents in Florida, US, are also starting to feel the effects of Dorian, though its path is difficult to predict as it creeps slowly over the Bahamas. However, the US National Hurricane Center expect life-threatening storm surges along Florida’s east coast and along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. As the US authorities respond to the devastation, Europe’s Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service has been activated to provide flood maps based on satellite data.


Figure 21: Copernicus Sentinel-3 image of Hurricane Dorian over the Bahamas on 2 September 2019 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA)

• August 27, 2019: Thousands of fires have broken out in the Amazon rainforest. Satellite data show that there are almost four times as many fires this year compared to the same period last year. Apart from Brazil, parts of Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina have also been affected. 46)

- While forest fires normally occur in Brazil’s dry season, which runs from July to October, the unprecedented increase is reported to come from both legal and illegal deforestation which allows land to be used for agricultural purposes, rising global temperatures are also thought to be making the region more susceptible to fire.

- The Amazon basin is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, spanning four countries and is home to millions of plants and animals. It produces around 20% of the world’s oxygen – hence the region being called ‘the lungs of the world’ – and is crucial for helping to regulate global warming as the forests absorb millions of tonnes of carbon emissions every year.

- Using Copernicus Sentinel-3 data, as part of the Sentinel-3 World Fires Atlas, almost 4000 fires were detected from 1 August to 24 August 2019, while last year there were far fewer during the same period, just 1110 fires.

- “By processing 249 images for August 2018 and 275 images for August 2019, we are able to see the incredible number of fires burning in the Amazon. This was achieved by the World Fire Atlas night time algorithm, in order to avoid any possible false alarms with the daytime algorithm,” says ESA’s Olivier Arino.

- Plumes of smoke have spread across the Amazon region. Strong winds have blown smoke to São Paulo – more than 2500 km away— causing a black out in the city. According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring System (CAMS), smoke has travelled as far as the Atlantic coast.

- CAMS also reports that the fires have released 228 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as copious amounts of carbon monoxide. The fires also threaten the lives of many indigenous people.

- The Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated to help respond to the fire. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community to help to respond to emergencies.

Figure 22: Number of wildfires in the Amazon. Using Copernicus Sentinel-3 data, as part of the Sentinel-3 World Fires Atlas, 3951 fires were detected at night from 1 August to 24 August 2019, compared to 1110 fires detected in 2018 during the same period (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA on ONDA Copernicus DIAS)


Figure 23: Wildfires in Brazil from Copernicus Sentinel-3. An unprecedented amount of fires have broken out in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. In this image, captured on 21 August 2019, the fires and plumes of smoke can clearly be seen (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

- The severity of the fires has reached the highest political levels. Deemed an international crisis, the G7 nations who met in France yesterday, have offered a 20 million euro emergency funding to assist Brazil and its neighboring countries to put out the fires, according to French President Emmanuel Macron.

- Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs, said, “As we continue to face the ongoing climate crisis, satellites are essential in monitoring wildfires in remote areas, especially for a key component of the Earth system such as the Amazon.”

Figure 24: Wildfires on the border between Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil from Copernicus Sentinel-2. This false-color animation captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission shows the fires breaking out on the border between Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. The animation contains three separate images from 8, 18 and 23 August 2019. On the 23 August, the smoke from the fire is visible in blue, while clouds can be seen in white. The orange areas show the burned land (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• July 30, 2019: Hundreds of wildfires have broken out in Siberia, some of which can be seen in this image captured from space on 28 July 2019. Almost three million hectares of land are estimated to have been affected, according to Russia’s Federal Forestry Agency. 47)


Figure 25: This Copernicus Sentinel-3 image shows a number of fires, producing plumes of smoke. The smoke has carried air pollution into the Kemerovo, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, and Altai regions (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

- An unprecedented amount of wildfires have been raging in various regions of the Arctic, including Greenland and Alaska in the US. They have been caused by record-breaking temperatures and lightning, fuelled by strong winds.

- Wildfires release harmful pollutants and toxic gases into the atmosphere. According to the WMO (World Meteorological Organization), fires in the Arctic released around 50 megatons of carbon dioxide in June alone – equivalent to Sweden’s total annual emissions.

• July 25, 2019: An extreme heatwave has hit Europe once again this week, following extreme weather in June. High temperatures are expected to peak today, reaching as high as 39—40°C, with Netherlands, Belgium and Germany recording their highest ever temperatures. Paris reached a sweltering 41°C, breaking its previous record in 1947. 48)

Figure 26: This animation of two images shows the land surface temperature from today 25 July, compared to data recorded during the previous heatwave on 26 June 2019 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

- The map has been generated using the Copernicus Sentinel-3’s SLSTR (Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer). Whereas weather forecasts use predicted air temperatures, the satellite measures the real amount of energy radiating from Earth – therefore this map better represents the real temperature of the land surface. Clouds are visible in white in the image, while the light blue represent snow-covered areas.

- The heatwave in June broke several records for many countries, with France reaching over 45°C for the first time. Germany, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia also reached peak temperatures.

- In many countries, red heat warnings have been issued, including Italy, Spain and France and civilians are advised to avoid travelling and stay hydrated.

• June 27, 2019: With some places expecting to be hit with air temperatures of over 40°C in the next days, much of Europe is in the grip of a heatwave – and one that is setting record highs for June. According to meteorologists this current bout of sweltering weather is down to hot air being drawn from north Africa. 49)

- Countries worst hit by this unusual June weather include Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Poland. In many places heat warnings have been issued and cities such as Paris have connected fountains and sprinklers to hydrants to help give people some relief. Wildfires in Catalonia, said to be the worst in two decades, have already ripped across 5000 hectares of land and are being blamed on the heat and strong winds.


Figure 27: This map shows the temperature of the land on 26 June. It has been generated using information from the Copernicus Sentinel-3’s SLSTR (Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer), which measures energy radiating from Earth’s surface in nine spectral bands – the map therefore represents temperature of the land surface, not air temperature which is normally used in forecasts. The white areas in the image are where cloud obscured readings of land temperature and the light blue patches are snow-covered areas (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• June 24, 2019: An unexpected and powerful eruption started at Raikoke volcano in the Kuril Islands on 21 June 2019. 50)

- The Kuril Islands are an island chain, located in the Pacific Ocean between northern Japan (i.e. Hokkaido) and the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Kuril Islands are claimed by Russia.


Figure 28: This image, which was captured on 22 June, shows the brown ash plumes rising high above the dense clouds – drifting eastwards over the North Pacific Ocean (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

- According to the Volcanic Ash Advisories Center (VAAC) Tokyo, the thick ash plumes rose to approximately 13 km above sea level. Weather officials warned aircraft flying over the area to be careful of any volcanic ash following the eruption.

- The majority of the plume is now drifting over the Bering Sea. Raikoke is a circular stratovolcano located on an inhabited island. Its last eruption was in 1924.

• May 29, 2019: Most of us probably wouldn’t think of describing snow in terms of its grain size. However, grain size is fundamental to the amount of sunlight that snow reflects back into space – its albedo. With both snow and albedo part of the climate system, scientists are applying a novel analytical theory to Copernicus Sentinel-3 data and shedding new light on Greenland’s changing albedo. 51)

Figure 29: Greenland snow grain and albedo. A sequence of snow grain size and albedo from the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites' OLCI (Ocean Land and Color Instruments). The animation illustrates a view through clear skies to the surface of the Greenland ice sheet where warming causes snow grain growth and reduced albedo. The darkest albedo areas are where snow melt gives way to bare glacier ice that melts even faster than snow cover, highlighting the fact that snow and ice are sensitive responders to weather and climate (image credit: GEUS–J. Box/ESA)

- The amount of sunlight absorbed or reflected by Earth’s surface drives our climate and weather. About one-third of the sunlight that hits Earth is reflected back into space and the other two-thirds is absorbed by the land, oceans and atmosphere. This ratio is governed by the reflectivity, or albedo, of the surface that the sunlight hits.

- Surfaces with lighter colors reflect more sunlight than darker surfaces. An everyday example of this is the difference we feel on a hot sunny day when wearing black clothes compared to wearing white. Earth is affected in the same way.

- So hypothetically, if the planet were completely covered in ice, it would reflect over 80% of incident sunlight back into space. On the other hand, if it were covered by dark green forest, it would only reflect about 10%.

- The albedo of Earth’s surface varies naturally according to the changing colors of the season, but long-term trends in changing snow and ice cover, as well as changing vegetation cover and air pollution, are having an impact on the overall balance of Earth’s albedo – and, hence, on how much heat it absorbs.

- The Global Climate Observing System lists both albedo and snow as essential climate variables, which when measured and studied over time are used to understand, monitor and predict climate change.

- Ice and snow are often cited as the first causalities of climate change, and are measured and monitored from space in a variety of ways. However, while ice and snow may be present, the melting process affects its albedo.

- Snow grain size is a fundamental property of snow and is directly proportional to its surface area. Fresh dry snow tends to have a small grain size (under 0.5 mm in diameter), but as it melts the grain size grows and the larger grains reflect less sunlight.

- Thanks to Alex Kokhanovsky from Vitrociset who, along with several authors, published an elegant analytical theory, scientists have a fast new way of retrieving snow grain size from satellite images.

- Scientists from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) in Copenhagen are coupling this theory with data from the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites’ Ocean Land and Color Instruments – as the animation above shows.

- Jason Box, from GEUS, explains, “One way of measuring the albedo of snow is to monitor how the surface color changes because of pollution such as from wildfire soot. But this doesn’t give us the whole story. Remarkably, this exciting new theory allows us to retrieve snow grain size from satellite optical images.

- “Through ESA’s Earth Observation Science for Society program, we have been able to demonstrate this over Greenland. We have found that pulses of warm air cause dark blemishes far inland on the ice sheet, contributing to increased climate sensitivity.”

- In fact, the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite constellation can now take the relay in maintaining the climate record on snow albedo, which was first provided by the AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) instruments on the US NOAA and Europe’s MetOp satellites, and then the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) on the US Terra and Aqua satellites.

- In the future, the method will be extended and applied to areas with more complex terrain than Greenland. Furthermore, grain size data is now on the horizon for being used operationally to improve weather, hydrological and hazards forecasts, in service to society.


Figure 30: Grainy nature of snow. Most of us probably wouldn’t think of describing snow in terms of its grain size. However, grain size is fundamental to the amount of sunlight that snow reflects back into space, its albedo (image credit: H. C. Steen Larsen)


Figure 31: Polluted snow and ice on Greenland. Dark and colored impurities resurface from melting snow and lie atop water-saturated glacier ice on Greenland. Much of the colored material is biological in origin (image credit: GEUS–J. Box)

• May 02, 2019: This Copernicus Sentinel-3 image, captured just yesterday on 1 May 2019, shows Cyclone Fani. Brewed in the Bay of Bengal and heading westwards, the cyclone is expected to make landfall on India’s east coast on Friday 3 May. 52)


Figure 32: With wind speeds of up to 200 km per hour, heavy rainfall and flooding have been forecast along the Odisha coast, and has led to the evacuation of around 800 000 people from the nearby low-lying areas. In the image, the width of the storm is estimated to be around 700-800 km. Once Cyclone Fani makes landfall, it is expected to move north-east, hitting Bangladesh and Bhutan on Saturday 4 May (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• March 8, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite takes us over New Zealand, with the image centered over Cook Strait between the North and South Islands (Figure 33). 53)

- On the island’s east coast, bright turquoise colors in the Pacific Ocean suggest the presence of sediment being carried into the ocean by river discharge as well as algal blooms.

- Algal blooms occur when there is a rapid increase in the number of algae in water, and are usually a result of slow water circulation and high water temperatures, they can be toxic and potentially dangerous to both fish and humans.

- The emerald green color of the coastal Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora), below the circular peninsula jutting out, is most likely because of a high concentration of chlorophyll. This brackish lake is home to over 150 species of birds and more than 40 species of fish thanks to the influx of both freshwater and marine species migrating in and out of the lake.

- Across the Cook Strait, nestling on the southern tip of the North Island, the image shows a body of water called Lake Wairarapa. It is yellow-ochre in color owing to high concentrations of sediment. This shallow lake, which is surrounded by wetlands and farms, drains into the smaller Lake Onoke, further south.

- Tongariro National Park, in the center of the North Island, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to its natural and cultural significance. The park has three active volcanoes. At 2797 m high, the snow-covered Ruapehu – a majestic stratovolcano – is the most visible in the image. The area’s rugged terrain and jagged rocks made it the ideal location for filming the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

- On the far west, the snow-capped cone of Mount Taranaki is in the middle of Egmont National Park. The mountain is surrounded by dark-colored dense forest that is in contrast to the unprotected pasture outside of the park’s circular boundary. It is considered one of the most symmetrical volcano cones in the world.


Figure 33: This true color image of New Zealand, captured on 22 August 2018 with Sentinel-3A, shows the snow-covered Southern Alps stretching 500 km across the west coast of the South Island. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

• March 06, 2019: A new study of the Sentinel-3 mission shows its great potential for precision elevation data observations of the Antarctic ice sheet proving a valuable addition to monitoring efforts in the region, according to work published this week in The Cryosphere. The study, led by researchers from the new joint Lancaster University (UK)-CEH Centre of Excellence in Environmental Data Science (CEEDS), alongside ESA (European Space Agency) and industry partners, shows the potential of Sentinel-3 — one of the EU Copernicus satellite missions — to contribute towards long-term ice sheet monitoring programs. 54) 55)

- The scientists also found that Sentinel-3 could detect areas where the ice surface was rapidly lowering, thereby establishing the satellite's credentials as a new platform which can help to monitor Antarctica's contribution to sea level rise.

- Determining how well Sentinel-3 functions over ice sheets is particularly important given that CryoSat-2, ESA's dedicated polar mission, is already operating well beyond its planned lifetime.

- CryoSat-2 was designed to fly in a unique orbit, to maximize coverage of coastal areas of the ice sheet, and to map the regions close to the North and South Poles that were beyond the reach of previous satellites.

- Although Sentinel-3 — which has to balance many applications — cannot match this coverage, it still holds potential as a valuable long-term monitoring platform for decades to come.

- Dr Mal McMillan, lead author and co-Director of CEEDS, said: "Although the Sentinel-3 altimeter was primarily designed to monitor the oceans, we wanted to test how well it works over ice, and to see whether it is able to detect signs of glaciological change. Through the support offered by ESA's Scientific Exploitation of Operational Missions element, we have been able to study the performance of the Sentinel-3 mission for several years now, and we are pleased to be able to publish these results."

- He added: "From what we can see here, with just two years' worth of data, Sentinel-3 is going to be a very useful tool for surveying the Antarctic ice sheet."

- Sentinel-3 uses a radar technique called Delay-Doppler altimetry [use of SRAL (SAR Radar Altimeter) instrument] to make high resolution measurements of the height of the ice sheet.

- Where the ice is relatively flat, Sentinel-3 could map its height to within 10 cm of measurements taken by aircraft, as part of NASA's Operation Icebridge campaign.

- Dr McMillan explained: "This level of accuracy means that we can also use Sentinel-3 to track important features on the ice surface, like the imprint of active subglacial lakes draining and refilling beneath several kilometers of ice."

- Using radar satellites like Sentinel-3 over ice nonetheless has its challenges. For example, measurements over Antarctica's steeper, craggy coastal areas were less accurate because of how the rough landscape affects the radar signal.

- Future research into Sentinel-3's performance, as well as further improvements to data processing, will help take these effects into account. In the meantime, Sentinel-3 has already shown its value as a new tool for detecting ice sheet change.

- Co-author Jérôme Benveniste of the European Space Agency summarized: "We are delighted with the early promise shown by Sentinel-3 for ice sheet monitoring, and are increasingly confident that it will be a long-term asset to climate science."

Figure 34: Sentinel-3, a workhorse mission for Copernicus. Following its launch in February 2016 and subsequent commissioning phase, the Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite has been systematically measuring our oceans, land, ice and atmosphere. The information feeds a range of practical applications and is used for monitoring and understanding large-scale global dynamics. Sentinel-3A will soon be joined in orbit by its identical twin, Sentinel-3B. Both satellites carry a suite of cutting-edge instruments to supply a new generation of data products, which are particularly useful for marine applications. For example, they monitor ocean-surface temperatures for ocean and weather forecasting services, aquatic biological productivity, ocean pollution and sea-level change. The mission also delivers unique and timely information about changing land cover, vegetation, urban heat islands, and for tracking wildfires. With the two satellites in orbit, global coverage and data delivery will be optimized (video credit: ESA, published 6 March 2019)

• March 01, 2019: The Alps extend 1200 km through eight different countries: France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Slovenia. This mountain range, which is inhabited by some 20 million people, covers an area of approximately 200,000 km2. 56)

- The Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite takes us over the high, snow-studded Alps under clear skies (Figure 35). Patches of snow are visible on the island of Corsica, to the left of mainland Italy, Croatia, to the right, and at the bottom of the Apennines in central Italy. Most of Italy’s rivers find their source in the Apennines, including the Tiber and the Arno.

- The Adriatic Sea to the east of Italy is visible in turquoise, particularly the coastal area surrounding the Gargano National Park, jutting out. This light-green color of the sea along the coast is likely to be caused by sediment carried into the sea by river discharge.

- Directly to the right of the Alps, the image shows a pale-green Lake Neusiedl straddling the Austrian-Hungarian border. Neusiedl, meaning ‘swamp’ in Hungarian, is the largest endorheic lake in central Europe, meaning water flows into but not out of the lake, hence its size and level frequently fluctuates. It is a popular area for windsurfing, sailing and spotting the woolly Mangalica pig.

- To the right, the freshwater Lake Balaton is visible, it is the largest lake in central Europe. It stretches for over 75 km in the southern foothills of Hungary. Its striking emerald-green color is probably due to the presence of algae that grow in the shallow waters.


Figure 35: Captured on 16 February 2019 with Sentinel-3A, this true-color image shows little clouds, particularly over the Alps and the surrounding flatter lands in southern France. There is an interesting contrast between this and the haze hanging over the Po valley in Italy, directly south of the Alps. The haze is most likely to be a mix of both fog and smog, trapped at the base of the Alps owing to both its topography and atmospheric conditions. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Sensor complement (optical payload, topographic payload)

In the context of GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), the objectives of the Sentinel-3 mission, driven by ESA and the user community, encompass the commitment to consistent, long-term collection of remotely sensed data of uniform quality in the areas of sea / land topography and ocean color. Measurements over oceans will be provided jointly with other operational missions, such as the Jason series, to contribute to the realization of a permanent Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). Regarding ice, it is foreseen to monitor land ice (also denoted as ice sheet) including ice margins and sea ice. At last, measurements over rivers and lakes will help in the water level monitoring of spots of interest throughout the world.

Sentinel-3 will support primarily services related to the marine environment, such as maritime safety services that need ocean surface-wave information, ocean-current forecasting services that need surface-temperature information, and sea-water quality and pollution monitoring services that require advanced ocean color products from both the open ocean and coastal areas. Sentinel-3 will also serve numerous land, atmospheric and cryospheric application areas such as land-use change monitoring, forest cover mapping and fire detection. 57)


Figure 36: Sentinel-3 spacecraft with payload layout (image credit: ESA)


Figure 37: FOVs (Field of Views) of the Sentinel-3 instruments (image credit: ESA)

Optical payload (OLCI, SLSTR)

The optical payload consists of the OLCI and SLSTR instruments. They provide a common quasi-simultaneous view of the Earth to help develop synergistic products. 58) 59) 60)

The primary mission objective of the optical payload is to ensure the continuation of the successful Envisat observations of MERIS for ocean color and land cover and AATSR for sea surface temperature. In addition, due to the overlapping field of view from both optical sensors, new applications will emerge from the combined exploitation of all spectral channels.

OLCI (Ocean and Land Color Instrument):

OLCI is a medium resolution pushbroom imaging spectrometer of MERIS heritage, flown on Envisat, but with a slightly modified observation geometry: the FOV (Field of View) is tilted towards the west (~ 12º away from the sun), minimizing the sun-glint effect over the ocean and offering a wider effective swath (~ 1300 km, overall FOV of 68.6º). The sampling distance is 1.2 km over the open ocean and 0.3 km for coastal zone and land observations. The instrument mass is ~ 150 kg, a size of 1.24 m x 0.83 m x 1.32 m, the power demand is 124 W; it has been designed and developed at Thales Alenia Space España.

The FOV of OLCI is divided between five cameras on a common structure with the calibration assembly. Each camera has an optical grating to provide the minimum baseline of 16 spectral bands required by the mission together with the potential for optional bands for improved atmospheric corrections.

The OLCI bands are optimized to measure ocean color over open ocean and coastal zones. A new channel at 1.02 µm has been included to improve atmospheric and aerosol correction capabilities. Two additional channels in the O2A absorption line (764.4 and 767.5 nm, in addition to the existing channel at 761.25 nm) are included for improved cloud top pressure (height) with an additional channel at 940 nm in the H2O absorption region, to improve water vapor retrieval. A channel at 673 nm has been added for improved chlorophyll fluorescence measurement.

Band No

λ center

(W/m2 sr µm)

(W/m2 sr µm)

(W/m2 sr µm)

(W/m2 sr µm)





















































































































































Table 4: OLCI band specifications, in cyan MERIS heritage, in yellow additional bands 61)


Figure 38: The OLCI instrument supports a re-definition of its spectral bands through a programmable acquisition design to support a high-degree of flexibility during the mission (image credit: ESA)


Figure 39: Schematic view of the OLCI instrument configuration (image credit: ESA)

Each camera is constituted of a Scrambling Window Element to comply with the polarization requirement, a COS (Camera Optical Sub-assembly) for the spectral splitting of the different wavelengths, a FPA (Focal Plane Assembly) with a CCD for the signal detection and a VAM (Video Acquisition Module) for the monitoring of the analog signal. The optical sub-assembly of each camera includes its own grating and provides the 21 spectral bands required by the mission in the range 0.4-1.0 µm. 62)

The control of the instrument assembly is realized by a CEU (Common Electronic Unit), which assumes the function of instrument control, power distribution and digital processing.

A calibration assembly, including a rotation wheel with five different functions for normal viewing, dark current, spectral and radiometric calibrations insures the calibration of the instrument. The calibration wheel has 5 positions: 63)

• The Earth Observation aperture

• The Shutter, blocking incoming light it allows dark offset acquisition (and gives the calibration zero)

• The nominal radiometric diffuser, from which calibration gains are derived

• The reference radiometric diffuser, dedicated to the monitoring of the nominal diffuser ageing

• The spectral diffuser allowing spectral calibration at 3 wavelengths.


Figure 40: Schematic view of the OLCI observation geometry with the 5 camera assembly (image credit: ESA)

Compared to ENVISAT, the following improvements have been implemented:

• Along-track SAR capability for coastal zones, inland water and sea-ice altimetry

• Off-nadir tilted field of view for OLCI cameras to minimize sun-glint contamination (i.e. loss of ocean color data)

• New spectral channels in OLCI and SLSTR allowing improved retrieval of geophysical products and detection of active fire

• Synergy products (e.g. vegetation) based on combination of OLCI and SLSTR data (OLCI swath fully covered by SLSTR swath).

In each camera unit, Earth light enters a calibration assembly which includes filters as well as spectral calibration sources which are PTFE (Polytetrafluorethylen, also known as Teflon) sun diffusers to track spectral calibration, gain calibration and instrument aging effects. Next, light passes through the scrambling window assembly featuring a scrambling window and an inverse filter.

The camera optics subassembly houses all optics needed for the separation of spectral bands and focusing the light onto the detector. After passing through the ground imager optics, the light is dispersed by a diffraction grating and passed onto the CCD detector system building the centerpiece of the focal plane assembly.

The spectrometer generates a dispersed image of the entrance slit onto a two-dimensional detector where one dimension is the spatial extension of the slit and the other is the spectral dispersion of the slit image created by the grating.


Figure 41: OLCI optical design (image credit: ESA)


Figure 42: Photo of the OLCI engineering model (image credit: ESA, TAS)


~1270 km

Spatial resolution

300 m @ SSP (Sub-Satellite Point)


MERIS type calibration arrangement with spectral calibration using a doped Erbium diffuser plate, radiometric calibration using PTFE diffuser plate and dark current plate viewed approximately every 2 weeks at the South Pole ecliptic. A second diffuser plate viewed periodically for calibration degradation monitoring.


ENVISAT MERIS heritage back-illuminated CCD55-20 frame-transfer imaging device (780 column by 576 row array of 22.5 µm square active elements).

Optical scanning design

Pushbroom imaging spectrometer. 5 cameras recurrent from MERIS with dedicated SWA (Scrambling Widow Assembly) and supporting by 5 VAMs (Video Acquisition Modules) for analog to digital conversion.

Spectral resolution

1.25 nm (sampling interval), 21 bands (nominal Earth View), 45 bands (spectral campaigns)

Radiometric accuracy

<2% with reference to the sun (0.1% stability for radiometric accuracy over each orbit and 0.5% relative accuracy for the calibration diffuser BRDF)

Mass, size

150 kg, 1.3 m3

Table 5: Technical characteristics of the Sentinel-3 OLCI instrument

Minimize Copernicus: Sentinel-3 Continued

SLSTR (Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer):

SLSTR is an upgraded and advanced version of the AATSR instrument on Envisat, offering a wider swath which completely overlaps the OLCI swath, as required to produce accurate vegetation products. The SLSTR is designed for ocean and land-surface temperature observations. Unlike AATSR, SLSTR has a double-scanning mechanism, yielding a much wider swath stretching almost from horizon to horizon. The OLCI and SLSTR swaths are overlapping broadly, yielding extra information. SLSTR has a wide nadir view and a narrow oblique view. 64) 65) 66)

Selex Galileo of Finmeccanica signed a contract with Thales Alenia Space, to supply the SLSTR instrument. Overall, the SLSTR team involves some 20 European companies or institutions, referred to as “SLSTR consortium” (among them RAL (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory), Jena-Optronik, TAS-F, ABSL, ESA/ESTEC), for the development of this rather complex payload.

The instrument design follows the dual view concept of the ATSR series with some notable improvements. An increased swath width in both nadir and oblique views (1400 and 740 km) provides measurements at global coverage of Sea and Land Surface Temperature (SST/LST) with daily revisit times, which is useful for climate and meteorology (1 km spatial resolution).

Improved day-time cloud screening and other atmospheric products will be possible from the increased spatial resolution (0.5 km) of the VIS and SWIR channels and additional SWIR channels at 1.375 µm and at 2.25 µm. Two additional channels using dedicated detector and electronics elements are also included for high temperature events monitoring (1 km spatial resolution).

The two Earth viewing swaths are generated using two telescopes and scan mirrors that are optically combined by means of a switching mirror at the entrance of a common FPA (Focal Plane Assembly). The eleven spectral channels (3 VIS, 3 SWIR, 2 MWIR, 3 TIR) are split within the FPA using a series of dichroics. The SWIR, MWIR and TIR optics/detectors are cooled down to 80 K with an active cryocooler, while the VIS detectors work at a stabilized uncooled temperature.

The SST and LST data generated from SLSTR observations are intended to ensure continuity of the data sets started in 1991 by the ATSR series. The plan is for the Sentinel 3 Mission to operate with two satellites operating concurrently for 20 years when fully implemented, although initially a single SLSTR will provide equivalent or a better performance (Table 6) when compared to its predecessors in the following ways:

- Increase of the dual view swath width from 500 to 744 km centered on the subsatellite track (Figure 43) gives a mean global coverage revisit time at the equator of 1.9 days (1 spacecraft) or 0.9 days (2 spacecraft)

- Enlarged single view swath width of 1400 km provides a mean global coverage revisit time at the equator of 1 day (1 spacecraft) or half a day (2 spacecraft)

- A nadir on-ground resolution of 0.5 km at nadir (instead of 1 km) for all VIS (S1-S3) and SWIR (S4-S6) channels. Radiance measurements from these channels are used for both land & clouds daytime observations

- Two added channels in the SWIR band to allow improved cloud and aerosol detection to give more accurate SST/LST retrievals

- Two dedicated channels for fire and high temperature events monitoring at 1 km resolution

- A mission design lifetime of 7.5 years which is higher compared to the earlier instruments.

High SNR (600) for the VIS channels at Earth albedo signals (30%) and low NEDT (< 30 mK) for the TIR channels is achieved via the use of a very efficient detector technology (TIA Si for VIS at 260 K, PV-CTIA for SWIR, and PC for TIR at 80 K). The polarization sensitivity is less than 5% EOL (2% BOL) thanks to the use of high reflecting/transparent optical coatings within the channel passbands.


Configuration/spectral range



Swath Width

Nadir view
Dual view

1400 km
740 km

500 km
500 km

Revisit time, global coverage

1 S/C (dual)
2 S/C (dual)
1 S/C (nadir)
2 S/C (nadir)

1.9 days
0.9 day
1 day
0.5 day

7-14 days
7-14 days

SSI (Spatial Sampling Interval)


0.5 km
1 km

1 km
1 km

No of spectral bands




Table 6: Comparison of SLSTR and AATSR performances

Spectral band

λ (µm)

Δλ (µm)

Albedo range (%)

Albedo Ref. (%)

SNR Ref.











































Spectral band

λ (µm)

Δλ (µm)

T range (K)

T Ref. (K)

NEΔT Ref. (mK)



















F1 (Fire)






F2 (Fire)






Table 7: EOL predicted radiometric resolution performance

Legend to Table 7: λ = center wavelength, Δλ = spectral width, Albedo Ref (Top of Atmosphere Reflectance), T (Top Of Atmosphere Brightness Temperature), SNR (Signal-To-Noise Ratio), NEΔT (Noise Equivalent Temperature Difference).

In the SLSTR viewing geometry, two SLSTR dedicated telescopes and scan mirrors generate the Earth view swaths (Figure 43) as portions of two conical CCW (Counter-Clock-Wise) scans; in between these observation views, SLSTR acquires calibration data with the BBs (Black Bodies) and the VISCAL (Visible Calibration unit).


Nadir view 1400 km, Dual view 740 km

Spatial resolution

VNIR/SWIR channels: 0.5 km
MWIR/TIR and fire: 1 km at SSP (Sub-Satellite Point)


Two on-board calibration reference BBs (Black Bodies) and one VISCAL (Visible Calibration) unit viewed respectively every 0.3 sec scan time (BBs) and once per orbit at the South Pole ecliptic (VISCAL).


VIS: Silicon diode operational Temperature Top ~ 265 K
SWIR and Mid-Infrared (MIR): HgCdTe photovoltaic (PV) elements actively cooled to ~89 K,
Thermal-Infrared TIR: HgCdTe photoconductive (PC) elements actively cooled to Top ~ 89 K.

Optical scanning

Along-track scanning based on two earth view scanning mirrors viewing two scan lines per revolution led via one recombination mirror and cooled focusing optics to the detector array (field stop on the detector elements)


SNR (R/NeDR): >300 EOL in VIS at 30% reflectance & 0.5 km,
SNR: 440-800 BOL in SWIR at 30% reflectance & 0.5 km,
NeDT EOL < 60 mK in MIR & < 30 mK in TIR at 270 K & 1 km
NeDT EOL < 90 mK in F1 & < 40 mK in F2 fire channels & 1 km

Radiometric accuracy

VIS-SWIR (albedo = 2–100%): < 2% (BOL) < 5% (EOL)
MWIR-TIR (265–310 K): < 0.1K (goal)
Fire1 and fire2 (<500 K): < 3K

Mass, size

150 kg, 2.1 m3

Table 8: Technical characteristics of the Sentinel-3 SLSTR instrument


Figure 43: Near nadir (left) and backward inclined (right) views of the scanning mirror geometry (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

The SST/LST measurement accuracy is obtained by means of a high accurate calibration of the three infrared channels (S7-S8-S9), which are used for the correction of the water vapor atmospheric absorption (split window during day and triple window during night), and the observation of the same on-ground pixel by means of two atmospheric path views for the correction of aerosols effects (Figure 44).

Two different synchronized conical scanners are used to optimize the IR radiometric accuracy, allowing constant optical area beam and incidence angle (23.5º) for all scan points (both scene and BBs), low polarization effects and frequent views of BBs (every scan) with the same Earth observation geometry.

The conical scan, inherited from AATSR (Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer), is of fundamental importance for TIR (Thermal Infrared) radiometric accuracy as each scanner uses a constant optical area at a fixed angle. Optimizing incidence angles and reflectivities provides low polarization. Both scans are performed by means of a mirror inclined at θ=23.5º with respect to the rotation axis with an half cone angle of β=47º: the inclined view rotation axis is pointed to nadir direction while the near-nadir view rotation axis is backward inclined of γ=41º (Figure 44).

All on-ground pixels are viewed with an OZA (Observation Zenith Angle) less than 55º, so limiting the radiance variations with sea emissivity changes due to salinity, temperature and wind speed and permitting emissivity modelling only as a function of OZA.

A path length ratio between the two views of 1.54 is achieved for a good optimization of the SST retrieval algorithm. Two detector pixels (IR channels) simultaneously view 2 km along-track in nadir view, to ensure adequate signal integration and also reducing the scan speed with respect to previous AATSR thereby allowing heritage qualifications for the scanners’ bearing operational lifetime requirement of 7.5 years.


Figure 44: Near nadir and backward inclined views scanning mirror geometry (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

The SLSTR instrument comprises two physical units, that are integrated separately to the platform:

- SLOSU (SLSTR Optical Scanning Unit), simply referred to as OSU, is mainly composed by OME (Opto-Mechanical Enclosure) together with thermal radiators, FEE (Front End Electronics), the cooling system, and DA (Detection Assembly)

- SLCPE (SLSTR Control and Processor Electronics), simply called CPE, controls all subsystems and manages the data interface with the satellite.

The SLSTR functional block diagram and an instrument view are shown in Figure 45 and Figure 46, respectively.

For each view, IR and VIS radiant energy is reflected by a scan mirror mounted on a scan mechanism towards a paraboloid mirror. The energy is then focused and reflected into a common FPA, with a flip mirror mechanism switching from one view to the other. A fast switching flip-mirror alternates the optical beams from the two scanners so that they superimpose at prime focus and acquire signals from both Earth views (nadir and oblique) and the on-board calibrators (BBs and VISCAL). To increase lifetime, each scanner has a period of 300 ms, a factor of two slower than its predecessor AATSR.

This technology is housed in the OME, which mounts the two telescopes, the flip mirrors, the calibrator units (BBs and VCU), and the SUE (Scan Unit Electronics). The OME feeds the optical beams into the FPA (Focal Plane Assembly) which spectrally separates eleven channels (3 VIS, 3 SWIR, 2 MIR, 3 TIR) with dichroics. There are nine DUs (Detector Units), each one is equipped with a precision filter to define its spectral response. The IR channels’ optics/detectors are cooled to 80 K by an active cryocooler that has vibration compensation. The separated housed visible channels need to be run at a stable ambient temperature.


Figure 45: Functional block diagram of SLSTR (image credit: SLSTR consortium)


Figure 46: Illustration of the SLSTR instrument (image credit: SLSTR consortium)


Figure 47: Left: SLSTR, consisting of two baffles, a scan mirror, an off-axis parabolic mirror and a folding plane mirror for each telescope (near nadir and backward view), Right: A plane flip mirror is used to switch the beam between the two telescopes, focalizing at the entrance diaphragm of the FPA (Focal Plane Assembly), within which is separated into 9 spectral channels with cooled (265 K for VIS and 89 K for SWIR-TIR channels) dichroics, mirrors, filters, focalizing optics and detectors (image credit: ESA)

OSU (Optical Scanning Unit) technologies:

1) General design considerations for the OME (Opto-Mechanical Enclosure): Two conical scanners provide the two swaths by using rotating mirrors inclined at 23.5º with respect to its rotation axis. The oblique swath (740 km) is obtained with the scanner rotation axis pointed versus nadir, while for the near nadir one (1400 km), the scanner rotation axis is inclined backward at 41º. In this way, the same on ground swath of 740 km can be observed with two observation zenith angles (< 55º) with a minimum atmospheric path length ratio of 1.54 (Figure 48).


Figure 48: SLSTR swath configuration – the near nadir swath is red, while the oblique swath is shown in green (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

The OME layout for the scanners has been carefully optimized. Placing the two blackbodies (one hot at ~300 K, and another cold at ~265 K) in front of all other optical elements at the intersections of the two scanned cones (Figure 50 and Figure 51) affords both scanners frequent, continuous and consistent IR in-flight calibration.

The radiation from the earth or calibration targets is reflected via the two scanners and focused into a common focal plane. This plane at the telescope prime focus is an intermediate focus in the system since the FPA re-images it on to the detectors. The two reflective telescopes are realized with single off-axis paraboloid mirrors and use folding mirrors to feed a small, fast and precise FMD (Flip Mirror Device) as shown in Figure 49).

The FMD steps a highly reflective 13 mm diameter mirror about an attrition-free rotation axis, driven by a limited angle torque motor and a limited angular range optical encoder. Optical design optimization has permitted the tilt angle to be limited to < ±9.5º, so the SLSTR achieves the required flex-pivot lifetime. The FMD has a steady state angular stability accuracy of 10-15 arcsec.


Figure 49: Beam Path on Centre Plane (left image) and the location of the FMD combining oblique (blue) and nadir (green) beams coming from the right (image credit: SLSTR consortium)


Figure 50: Bended boundary line between green (OB) and red (NA) scan cone showing potential calibration source positions. Black bodies have to be positioned on this line to be seen by both scanners (image credit: SLSTR consortium)


Figure 51: Sectioned SLSTR side-view showing both scanners looking into the hot blackbody (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

SLSTR has a VISCAL (Visible Calibration unit) which is illuminated by the sun for ~1 minute each orbit. Besides the IR blackbodies already mentioned, the OME relays photons from the VISCAL via both scanners. The optical beams have been geometrically accommodated, but viewing them also has to be integrated in the timing duty cycle of the scanners. An optimized FMD switching time of 34 ms has been chosen, combining a minimized stepping angle with this minimizes drive thermal dissipation.

What the 34 ms does, means that calibration sources will be observed via both views only every two scans or 600 ms rather than every scan. A timing diagram for is shown in Figure 52, where the upper (magenta) and lower (blue) lines represent the oblique and nadir view scanner observations, while the middle brown line represents the position of the flip mirror and its transitions between the two views.


Figure 52: Combined Scanning Scheme over two scans showing the operation of the flipping device (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

2) Switching device FMD (Flip Mirror Device): The FMD (Figure 53) has been implemented by using components with limited development cycles:

- A conventional glass based flat mirror with 13 mm free aperture

- Attrition free axis bearing implemented by means of flexural pivots with infinite life time for max excursion angle of 15º and a powerless 0º position

- A limited angular range high resolution (19 bit) and accurate (< 15 arcsec) optical encoder

- An efficient LAT motor,

- A transition time between both operation positions separated by 19 of 34 ms

- 4 x switching operations per 600 ms

- More than 2 billion operations life-time.


Figure 53: Illustration of the FMD shown with the external encoder electronics (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

The final components selection includes a LAT-Motor actuator with an inertia of 1.46 x 10-6 kgm2 providing a torque of 36 mNm.

3) Scanning devices: To meet the improved GSD and mission performance requirements of the GMES program, the SLSTR scanning mechanism accuracy has been specified to be of the order of a quarter of 1 arcmin.

SLSTR has two scanners, referred to as SMU (SLSTR Scanning Mechanism), and one unit for their synchronization the SUE (Scan Unit Electronics). This synchronization is performed relative to an instrument clock for each 1 km pixel. An optical encoder with 21 bit resolution, a repeatability of 2 arcsec and a maximum absolute position error of about 6 arcsec had been selected.


Figure 54: Illustration of the SMU device (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

The primary performance requirement for the SMUs is to function in a system that defines the angle of mirrors via which SLSTR optically scans, positioning the pixels to the required accuracy. For vector components across the rotational axis, this limits run-out and lubrication track roughness. Along the scan swathes or around the SMU axis, accurate rotation angles are required at the time when each pixel is acquired.

In the SLSTR design, the SMUs drive the control position. This represents a considerably improved implementation over the AASTR design, in which the SMUs were driven at a constant angular velocity, and the swath pixel data was sampled and selected just on a time delay from a synchronization pulse. - For every SLSTR 'pix10sync signal', the position is being measured, implemented in a 100 Hz cut-off frequency closed loop circuit and transmitted to the ground for geolocation referencing. These measures offer a much more robust system in the event of some bearing torque degradation. Small scan mirror angle errors due to electronic noise or mechanical torques, either in the bearings or in external sources, can be corrected in part by means of the real-time positional control loop, the actual angles can then be used for later ground processing.

The maximum control loop pointing error is 5 arcsec. In case this tolerance will be exceeded, a flag will be set and transmitted with the telemetry data package of each scan.

The selected implementation for the SMU control system is an FPGA (Floating Point Gate Array) with an oscillator frequency of 40 MHz. A cascaded control scheme (Figure 55) is used with three levels:

- Current control loop (inner control loop) including the motor current commutation

- Speed control loop

- Position control loop (outer control loop).


Figure 55: Control loop scheme for the scan motors (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

These loops work with different sampling frequencies. The current control works with 27.5 kHz, while the outer loop is fixed at the frequency generated from the PIX10SYNC impulse each 82 µs. The maximum PWM resolution is limited to 10 bit.

The Scanning mirror will be manufactured from beryllium alloy to provide a low overall mass and inertia as well as sufficient stiffness and thermal stability. It is mounted to the shaft via an angular adapter and a centering shim. Using a mechanism shaft of very high accuracy, the angular adapter can provide the required value and accuracy of the scan cone angle. The centering shim allows the dismounting of the mirror to the adapter without alignment loss.

The scan mirror I/F has a stress relieved mechanical design to prevent the mirror surface from disturbances arising from mounting forces (Figure 56).


Figure 56: Structure of the scan mirror assembly (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

FPA (Focal plane Assembly) technologies:

1) General design considerations for the FPA: The FPA has an enclosure composed of a base-plate, a cylinder and an aluminum dome (Figure 57). The base-plate has an input field-limiting aperture, dichroics for spectral channels separation and lens optics to focus the beam onto each detector units. Note that the two scans are combined time multiplexed before they reach the FPA aperture.


Figure 57: Illustration of the FPA structure (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

The IR (S7, S8, S9) and SWIR (S4, S5, S6) channels are implemented on either side of the cryo-optical bench, cooled to 80 K (Figure 58), while the VIS (S1, S2, S3) channels are disposed outside in a separate enclosure at about 260 K. All S4-S9 optics, the detectors and the baseplate are cooled down to 80 K by a cryocooler with good established space heritage, life-time and reduced vibrations.

The VIS beam is sent to a VIS box (containing all VIS dichroics, optics and detectors) which is controlled to a temperature of 260 K and is situated in the upper part of the FPA.


Figure 58: FPA IR optical bench showing IR optics, detector and cables (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

2) Detection module: The detection module is formed by 9 detectors optimized for low photon flux and high temporal response. Three custom photovoltaic (PV) silicon detectors cover the VIS and NIR bands (0.4 µm to 1.0 µm), four HgCdTe PV detectors are used on the SWIR/MWIR band (1 µm to 4.4 µm) and two photoconductive (PC) HgCdTe detectors provide coverage for wavelengths beyond 10 µm.

The Si detectors are mated to companion TIA (Trans-Impedance Amplifier) arranged in a particular configuration to achieve high bandwidth with very high feedback impedance. The HgCdTe PV detectors are wire-bonded to readout integrated circuits (ROIC) that provide integration and multiplexing. The CAIA (Capacitive Trans-Impedance Amplifier) readout cells provide customized integrating capacitance for each band with high efficiency at low photon fluxes and high bandwidth. The HgCdTe PC detectors are designed for high responsivity and detectivity and are technologically critical, requiring a material cut-off wavelength close to 14 µm at 90 K (S9). They are mounted inside the DA (Detector Assembly) to operate, respectively, at about 260-270 K (Si) and 80 K (HgCdTe), and are connected to the FEE (Front End Electronics) through a combination of flexible (inside the DA) and standard (outside the DA) cables for a total length of 1.5 m.

To cover the visible bands, the PV Si detectors are realized with two different epitaxial layers and three anti-reflection coatings optimized in the region of interest in order to achieve a global quantum efficiency of 80%.

Each device is composed by four 185 x 205 µm elements, separated by a narrow guard ring to reduce dark current and improve the MTF characteristics. A TIA feedback resistance, in the order of 240 MΩ, is needed to meet the severe performance requirement causing non-trivial difficulties in achieving electrical bandwidth higher than 15 kHz.

The SWIR/MWIR detectors operate with low photo-generated currents at nominal dwell time of 40 µs. With these levels of photon fluxes, the classical direct injection (DI) structure does not operate, because of its electrical bandwidth and injection efficiency. These detectors are based on CTIA technology to enhance the electrical bandwidth of the ROIC input stage while its capacitance is designed to comply with the expected radiance for each band to minimize the readout noise that is the main contribution to the noise figure at low signal levels. The S4-S6 detectors are formed by two columns of four 100 x 100 µm elements to have off-chip oversampling of the observed scene, while the S7 detector is formed by single column of 200 x 200 µm elements.

Additional elements for the F1 fire detector are mounted inside S7; these are arranged in a column of four pixels with an active area of 25 x 100 µm to reduce the photo-generated current. These elements are in fact bonded to the ROIC in a BDI ( Buffered Direct Injection) technology of the input stage, to comply with 500 K target temperature. The 1 km response is obtained by integrating the reduced FOV signal for the dwell time, because the fire detector elements are mounted perpendicular to the along-scan direction. The BDI technique was chosen to implement the large capacitance needed to store the signal generated by high fluxes at high temporal variations but it is also able to handle the calibration signal from on-board 300 K BB at long observation periods with sufficient SNR.

The global quantum efficiency of the SWIR/MWIR devices is 80%, including the narrow band filter, with saturation charges and readout noises, respectively, of 0.6 M to 4 M and 150 to 350 electrons, depending on band, together with linearity of 1%. The global quantum efficiency of the MWIR fire elements is 70%, including the narrow band filter, with saturation charge and readout noise, respectively, of 20 M and 550 electrons, together with linearity of 1%. The photodiodes, the ROICs and the temperature sensors are mounted on the fan-out ceramics with thick film conductors as shown in Figure 59.


Figure 59: Illustration of the SWIR/MWIR 3D model assembly (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

The TIR detectors use the bulk photoconductor concept with particular layout to increase their responsivity. Although the increasing of the bias current would appear to be a straightforward way to improve the detector sensitivity, it involves also the increasing of the noise. Indeed, low current operation provides optimum SNR and an improved response spatial uniformity.

A responsivity as large as 150 KV/W is required to minimize the noise coming from the downstream electronics and in particular to the voltage noise of the OpAmp used for the high gain preamplifier. The resistor values of the PC elements are low and hence, the time constant is of few µs, due to the recombination time of the photo-generated carriers. The detectors contain two pixels, and each pixel is made with pairs of elements, one active and the other blind. The advantage of this arrangement is that the two parts are balanced when there is no radiation falling on the active part. This measure reduces the offset considerably as well as the thermal and ageing effects, since the signals from the active and blind part are differentially amplified. The global quantum efficiency of the LWIR (Long Wave Infrared) S9 elements is 70%, including the narrow band filter, with a detectivity of about 2.5 x 1011 Jones at 80 K, a linearity of 1%, and an element matching of 2%. Note: the 'Jones' is a unit of specific detectivity. - All detectors are in compliance with the SLSTR radiation requirements.

The SLSTR FPA requires special care in the routing, shielding and grounding of very low noise PC signals in the presence of high level PV signals. The FPA signals are received by the FEE (Front-End Electronics) in radiation-tolerant and redundant design with free fault-propagation circuits interfacing the detectors. The FEE operation is controlled by FPGA allowing some flexibility in the acquisition characteristics via ground commands. The main demands of the detection system are:

- Same temporal-spatial response for the VIS/SWIR, TIR and fire channels

- Extremely low thermal variation of the gain and offset

- Very low noise.

3) FEE (Front End Electronics): The FEE is subdivided into a common and a cold-redundant part as depicted in Figure 60.

The former (in red) includes the functions strictly associated with DU like bias and p/s voltages, differential receivers of the analog signals and temperature sensor switching. It is formed by nine separated and independent sections having dedicated protections to avoid failure propagation.

The latter comprises the functions associated to the video processing of the analog signals, including amplification, filtering, offset correction, sampling and/or integration up to the A/D conversion, the generation and distribution of the timing signals, the HK (Housekeeping) signal acquisition, the power supply filtering, the LVDS interface for the synchronization signals, and the SpaceWire interface for command/telemetry. To manage the 20 analog chains, the FEE architecture uses 10 radiation hardened ADC RHF1401, working in parallel and interfacing to the FPGA RTAX2000 though 10 private buses.


Figure 60: Block diagram of the FEE (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

Three types of analog processing are employed for the VIS, SWIR/MWIR, and the TIR signals. The implementation of the F2 channel is of some interest; it is derived from the S8 chain after the preamplification and offset correction as shown in Figure 61.


Figure 61: Concept of the S8 and F2 integrating stages (image credit: SLSTR consortium)

Each PC signal is generated by a bridge configuration, using the active and blind elements whose bias currents can be adjusted by resistors, to reduce the dc offset when blanked. It is amplified by using two stages with an intermediate offset correction feature for a total gain of about 300. The PC preamplifier uses the RH1028 with excellent noise performance having a voltage noise less than the noise of a 50 Ω resistor. However, careful attention has to be paid to limit the effect of the bias noise.

Multiple acquisitions with the decimation technique are used to reduce the ADC (Analog Digital Converter) noise to about 100 µV rms (~ 1 LSB of 14 bit ADC) with each data coded in a 16 bit string. In this way the ADC noise contribution to the overall noise is further reduced allowing fixed amplification, because each channel noise is dominated by the corresponding detector noise.

SLSTR budget: The SLSTR instrument has a nominal mass of 140 kg (160 kg max) and the nominal power consumption of 155 W.

Topography payload: (SRAL, MWR, GNSS receiver, DORIS, LRR)

The objective of the topography mission is to provide measurements over the open Ocean, coastal zones, ice sheets, rivers and lakes. Measurements over open oceans will contribute jointly with other operational missions to the realization of a permanent Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). The main parameters measured over the open sea are SSH (Sea Surface Height) and SWH (Significant Wave Height) allowing to retrieve sea surface wind speed.

The science goals of the topography mission can be summarized as: 67)

• to continue and extend the current set of altimetry measurements at least at the level of quality of the Envisat RA (Radar Altimeter)

• to provide along-track SAR processing to improve acquisitions for coastal zones, in-land water and sea-ice topography

• to provide open loop tracking through an onboard stored DEM (Digital Elevation Model) to improve acquisitions over inhomogeneous or rough topography.

All altimetry products will be delivered as NRT (Near-Real- Time) within 3 hours after acquisition with an orbit estimate from the GNSS receivers. STC (Standard Time Critical) and NTC (Non Time Critical) products will improve orbit estimates with complementary information from DORIS and the laser reflector.

SRAL (SAR Radar Altimeter)

SRAL is a redundant dual-frequency (C-band + Ku-band) nadir-looking altimeter instrument, and the core instrument of the topographic payload. The overall objectives are to provide altimetric data (basic measurements of surface heights, sea wave heights and sea wind speed) relative to a precise reference frame. SRAL has a strong heritage of the instrument techniques implemented for the Poseidon-3 altimeter on Jason-2 (launch June 20, 2008), SIRAL (SAR Interferometer Radar Altimeter) on CryoSat-2 (launch April 8, 2010), and AltiKa (Altimeter in Ka-band) on the SARAL mission of ISRO and CNES (launch 2012). The SRAL instrument is being developed at TAS (Thales Alenia Space) of Toulouse, France. 68) 69) 70) 71)

The SRAL radar uses a linearly frequency-modulated pulse (chirp) and the pulse compression is carried out on-board by means of the deramp technique. The main frequency used for surface height measurements is the Ku-band (13.575 GHz, bandwidth=350 MHz), whereas the C-band frequency (5.41 GHz, bandwidth=320 MHz) is used for the ionospheric corrections. The frequency plan is compliant with the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) regulations. A 50 ms pulse duration for both frequencies has been sized as a trade-off result between a high BT product and the timing constraints of the burst pattern of the SAR mode.


Figure 62: Comparison between Jason (black) and Sentinel-3 (purple) ground tracks for a complete cycle (image credit; ESA)


Figure 63: The measurement principle of the topography payload (image credit: ESA)


Figure 64: A diagram of the corrections applicable to the altimeter range measurement and the contributions to the height of the instantaneous sea surface above a reference earth ellipsoid (image credit: Gary M. Mineart)

The main characteristics of the SRAL (SENTINEL-3 Ku/C Radar Altimeter) are: 72)

• radar measurement modes: LRM and SAR

• tracking modes: closed and open-loop

• pulse repetition frequency: 1.9 kHz (LRM), 17.8 kHz (SAR)

• total range error: 3 cm

• launch mass: 60 kg.


Figure 65: Photo of the SRAL instrument assembly (image credit: ESA)

The SRAL altimeter instrument is made of one nadir looking antenna subsystem which is externally mounted on the satellite +Zs panel and central electronic chains composed each of a DPU (Digital Processing Unit) and a RFU (Radio Frequency Unit). The central electronic chains are mounted inside the satellite on the -YS panel and are treated according to a cold redundancy scheme.


Figure 66: SRAL accommodation on the Sentinel -3 spacecraft (image credit: ESA)

SRAL modes of operation:

The SRAL instrument includes measurement modes, calibration modes and support modes. The measurement modes are composed of two radar modes associated to two tracking modes. The two radar modes are the following:

LRM (Low Resolution Mode). It refers to the conventional altimeter pulse-limited resolution mode (so far, the LRM mode is being used on all altimetry missions). It consists of regular emission/reception sequences at a fixed PRF (Pulse Repetition Frequency) of around 1920 Hz leading to an ambiguity rank of 10.

SARM (SAR Mode): This is a high along-track resolution mode composed of bursts of Ku-band pulses.

These modes are associated to two tracking modes which consist of the following:

- Closed-loop mode: refers autonomous positioning of the range window (ensures autonomous tracking of the range and gain by means of tracking loop devices implemented in the instrument).

- Open-loop mode: refers to the positioning of the range window based on a-priori knowledge of the terrain height from existing high-resolution global digital elevation models.

The open-loop is intended to be used instead of the more conventional closed-loop tracking over some surfaces, to improve the acquisitions over inhomogeneous or rough topography. While in open-loop, the setting of the tracking window of the altimeter is driven by predetermined commands, stored on board, combined with real-time navigation information available from the GNSS receiver. The main advantage is that the measurements are continuous, avoiding the data gaps typical of closed-loop tracking, which has problems in tracking the rapid topographic changes at coastal margins and in mountainous regions.

Surface type

Instrument operation



Open ocean



Coastal ocean



Sea ice



Ice sheet interiors



Ice sheet margins






Table 9: Summary of SRAL support modes


Figure 67: Comparison of a conventional pulse-limited radar altimeter’s (a) illumination geometry (side view) and footprint (plan view) and (b) impulse response, with a delay/Doppler altimeter’s (c) illumination geometry and footprint and (d) impulse response (image credit: JHU/APL) 73)


Figure 68: Instrument architecture of SRAL (image credit: TAS, ESA)

The SRAL instrument generates either C-band or Ku-band pulses in order to simplify the hardware design. However, the periodic emission of elementary patterns (1 C-band pulse is surrounded by 6 Ku-band pulses, denoted by 3Ku/1C/3Ku) ensures a sufficient correction of the ionosphere bias (Figure 69).


Figure 69: The LRM transmit/receive pattern scheme (image credit: ESA)

After de-ramping and digital processing, the echo received from each pulse is sampled on 128 points corresponding to a 60 m range window. The C- and Ku-band echoes are submitted each to a FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) to return to the time domain after deramp. Then, C- and Ku-band echoes are accumulated separately over a 50 ms cycle corresponding to an accumulation of 84 Ku-band pulses and 14 C-band pulses over that cycle.

SARM (SAR Mode): The implementation of a nadir SAR mode provides an enhanced along-track (azimuth) resolution (~ 300 m) w.r.t. the LRM mode. This feature allows to acquire height measurements over along-track sliced areas sampled at the 300 m resolution. It is of prime interest to discriminate finely sea/ice transitions, sea/land transitions in a coastal area or inland water areas.

The SAR mode consists of periodical emissions/receptions of bursts composed of 64 Ku-band pulses surrounded by 2 C-band pulses (Figure 70) again for ionosphere delay correction. The 64 Ku-band pulses are generated coherently within a burst to carry out azimuth resolution enhancement on a burst basis by means of Doppler filtering. The burst emission / reception cycle is completed before the next burst cycle. The burst cycle duration is about 12.5 ms in such a way that a 4-burst cycle is equal to the LRM cycle of 50 ms. The PRF within a burst is around 18 kHz.


Figure 70: The SAR burst pattern scheme (image credit: ESA)


Figure 71: Final shape of resolution cells in SAR mode (image credit: ESA)

Calibration mode: Two specific calibration modes have been designed to refresh the calibration parameters required for ground processing and to monitor the good health of the instrument in flight configuration. The CAL-1 mode allows to calibrate the internal impulse responses (range and azimuth impulse responses in C- and Ku-band) whereas the CAL-2 mode allows to calibrate the gain profile of the range window by averaging thermal noise measured at each C- and Ku-band antenna port.


LRM mode

SAR mode

Power consumption

90 W

100 W

Data rate

100 kbit/s

12 Mbit/s

Instrument mass

< 62 kg

Reliability @ 30ºC

> 0.92

Table 10: Some SRAL instrument parameters

The “dual-like” features of the SRAL instrument (dual frequency, dual radar mode, dual tracking mode) make it possible to acquire very accurate topography data over all types of surfaces covered by the Sentinel-3 mission. And the “dual” central electronic chain ensures a high degree of reliability.

SRAL antenna: The antenna is made up of a 1.20 m parabolic reflector with a C/Ku dual frequency feed horn placed in a centered configuration at a focal length of about 430 mm. The feed is supported by 3 struts separated by a 120º angle: Two of them are doubled to improve the sidelobe ratio performance and the third one supports the Ku-band waveguide. It must be pointed out that the position of the strut ends on the reflector to match the reflector brackets position in order to improve the mechanical robustness of the antenna.

The antenna provides a minimum gain of 41.5 dBi in Ku-Band and 31.6 dBi in C-band at bore sight in the signal bandwidths. The side-lobe level is lower than –18 dB in Ku-band in order to minimize the Range Ambiguity Ratio.

The SRAL antenna is manufactured by MDA (MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.), Richmond, BC, Canada. The center-fed linearly-polarized antenna has a mass of < 7 kg. 74)


Figure 72: Photo of the SRAL EM antenna (image credit: TAS, ESA)

RFU (Radio Frequency Unit): The RFU equipment (Figure 73) is made up of slices which are stacked together except the C- and Ku-band duplexers that will be fixed independently on the satellite panel. The RFU up-converts chirp signals from 50 MHz to C- and Ku-band and provides an output power of 38 dBm in Ku-band and 43 dBm in C-band. The up -conversion stage also includes an expansion of the chirp bandwidth by a factor of 16. Received echoes in C- and Ku-band are deramped down to 100 MHz. The deramp output produces a useful signal bandwidth of 2.86 MHz which is then processed by the DPU.


Figure 73: Illustration of the RFU device (image credit: TAS, ESA)

DPU (Data Processing Unit): The DPU is a rack of 6 boards plus an interconnection board. Its main functions are:

• Generation of a chirp signal centered at 50 MHz at PRF (Pulse Repetition Frequency) rate

• Processing of deramped echoes including digitization, I/Q demodulation, FFT and echo accumulation

• Transmission of science data on SpaceWire link

• Echo processing (range and tracking) for the closed loop mode operation

• Storage and management of on-board Digital Elevation Model for Open-Loop tracking

• Management of 1553 TM/TC interface with the platform


Figure 74: Illustration of the DPU device (image credit: TAS, ESA)

MWR (Microwave Radiometer):

MWR is a nadir looking sounder, operating at 23.8 and 36.5 GHz (K/Ka-band) covering a bandwidth of 200 MHz in each channel. The objective is to provide water vapor and cloud water contents in the field of view of the altimeter, necessary to compensate for the propagation delay induced by these atmospheric components and affecting the radar measurements. Such corrections are only possible over the ocean, where the background noise is stable and can be quantified either by the 3rd (optional) radiometer channel, or derived from the altimeter measurements of the backscattered power. Alternatively, over ice and land surfaces where MWR data cannot be used, wet troposphere corrections will be derived based on global meteorological data and dedicated models.

The MWR instrument is being developed by Airbus DS-CASA Espacio of Madrid, Spain (formerly EADS CASA Espacio) under contract with Thales Alenia Space France (TAS-F) and ESA. MWR measures the thermal radiation emitted by Earth (brightness temperature). The received signal is proportional to the abundance of the atmospheric component emitted at the observed frequency and the sea-surface reflectivity. This information reveals the delay added to the altimeter pulses by moisture in the troposphere. 75) 76) 77) 78)

The MWR instrument is comprised of the following part elements: antenna assembly, REU (Radiometer Electronics Units), the main structure and the thermal control hardware. Both K-band and Ka-band channels are fully redundant, except for the antenna assembly, with cold redundancy without cross-strapping.


Figure 75: MWR block diagram (image credit: ESA)

Center frequency, bandwidth

23.8 GHz, 200 MHz

36.5 GHz, 200 MHz

Center frequency stability

180 kHz/ºC

220 kHz/ºC

Radiometric performance

Accuracy: < 3K
Sensitivity: 0.29 K
Stability: < 0.6 K

Accuracy: < 3K
Sensitivity: 0.34 K
Stability: < 0.6 K

Beam efficiency (2.5 HPBW)



Antenna footprint diameter (average HPBW)

23.5 km

18.5 km

Calibration cycle

~ 1 / hour

Dicke frequency

78.5 Hz (nominal, programmable within 76-80 Hz range)

Integration time

152.88 ms (nominal, within 150-157.9 ms range)

Dynamic range

2.7 K to 320 K (radiometric performance guaranteed at 150 K - 313 K range)

Side-lobe level (SLL)

< -36 dB

< -45 dB

Antenna beam pointing

Along-track: 1.98
Cross-track: 0.0º

Along-track: 1.93º
Cross-track: 0.0ºº

Main antenna diameter

60 cm

Instrument mass, power consumption

~24.2 kg, operation = 26 W, safe = 20 W

Table 11: Main characteristics of the MWR instrument

Conceptually, the MWR is a balanced Dicke radiometer for brightness temperatures below the Dicke load temperature. The balancing is achieved by means of a noise injection circuit. For brightness temperatures higher that the Dicke load temperature a conventional Dicke mode is used. The radiometer employs a single offset reflector of 60 cm in diameter and two separate feeds for the two channels. Calibration is achieved through a dedicated horn antenna pointing at the cold sky.


Figure 76: Block diagram of the detailed functional architecture of the MWR instrument (image credit: ESA)

The REU (Radiometer Electronics Unit) consists of the RFFE (Radio Frequency Front End) and the RPM (Radiometer Processing Module). The RFFE is located as close as possible to the measurement feeds to optimize the length of the waveguides and thus the radiometric performance. It contains the amplifiers, switches (calibration and redundancy) and other performance determining elements. The RPM contains the thermal control, the RFFE control, the noise injection loop, the power supplies (also for the RFFE) and provides the electronic interface to the platform. The REU includes a mode to blank the receiver inputs when the radar altimeter emits its pulses to avoid potential disturbances. This mode is accessible by ground commands.

Antenna assembly: The antenna assembly consists of the main nadir-looking reflector that has a diameter of 60 cm, the two measurement feeds and a calibration feed-horn, also known as sky horn. The main antenna is a single offset reflector fed by one horn for each channel. The calibration antenna is based on a wide band single corrugated horn and a frequency diplexer. Both antennae receive a single linear polarization and their signals are routed towards the receivers by means of separate waveguides.

The antenna assembly receives the noise temperature emitted by the objects within the antenna field of view. Discrimination between the different measurement frequencies is done by using different feed horns, each covering a separate frequency band. A separate sky measurement is provided by means of a dedicated sky horn. In this way, the satellite can continue the regular nadir measurements without the need of any maneuvers to turn over the satellite to look at the cold sky. The different frequencies received in the sky horn, are separated by a wave guide diplexer. The signals received by the feeds are guided towards the receiver electronics by means of waveguides. The physical temperatures of the different sections of the antenna assembly are measured and sent to the RPM (Radiometer Processing Module) of the REU.

The RFFE (Radio Frequency Front End) is manufactured by Thales Alenia Space Italia (TAS-I) and is implemented in a very compact design of 200 mm x 290 mm x 120 mm, a total mass of 5 kg, and 10 W power consumption.. Each RFFE channel holds a MSA (Microwave Switching Assembly), a redundant receiver (Rx) and a NS (Noise Source). The RPM is comprised of the FPGA-based radiometer control and acquisition and the DC/DC converters. It provides the electrical interface of the MWR to the Sentinel-3 SMU.


Figure 77: Illustration of the RFFE instrument (left), outline of the RPM (right) image credit: TAS-I)

The MSA includes the Quad-switch, made of 4 ferrite switches, which is in charge of the selection of the nominal/redundant and observation/calibration paths. A redundant driver provides the required pulsed current to the switches so that one of the following two states is selected:

1) Nominal → Observation / Redundant → Calibration, or

2) Nominal → Calibration / Redundant → Observation.

The RF part of the Quad-switch is the only non-redundant section of the RFFE, but its reliability is estimated to be better than 0.99924 (11.56 FIT). The MSA is completed with a waveguide coupler for the noise injection and the Dicke switch with a 25 dB matched load. Measurements data from the EQM model shows a remarkable performance in terms of return loss (> 25 dB), isolation (> 40 dB) and insertion loss (< 1 dB) for the MSA, with switching times lower than 2.5 µs and low power consumption.

The NS contains a single noise diode and two cascaded PIN switches, providing high isolation (> 80 dB) in the off state. Additional attenuators are included inside the NS to tune the ENR (Excess Noise Ratio) at the output of the Dicke switch to be around 0 dB. Fine tuning can be also achieved by adjusting the current to the noise diode. The Rx is a superheterodyne receiver; its first element is the LNA, which provides low noise figure and permits good instrument sensitivity even with a SSB (Single Side-Band) architecture. The RF signal is down-converted to an intermediate frequency of 2.5 GHz, which is common to both frequency modules. The local oscillator is based on an X-band DRO and frequency multiplier, while the bandwidth selection is achieved by means of a microstrip band-pass filter centered at the IF frequency. A distributed Rx gain of some 65 dB allows the input noise power to be detected through linear behavior of all Rx components. The square law detector diode is followed by a 4th order Butterworth filter with a cut-off frequency of 50 kHz. The LPF is optimized taking into account the sampling frequency of the ADC (100 kHz) and the offset produced in the retrieval of Ta when the filter’s group delay is increased.


Figure 78: Conceptual view of the MWR instrument and accommodation on the Sentinel-3 spacecraft (image credit: ESA)

Instrument operation: The MWR is a digitally controlled NIR (Noise Injection Radiometer) instrument. It measures the brightness temperature of the observed scene (the surface of the Earth through the atmosphere, as the instrument is pointing to nadir in its nominal attitude). The noise captured by the RF receiver at both operating frequencies (23.8 and 36.5 GHz) is compared to a very stable Dicke load. This load produces a noise power equivalent to its physical temperature, which is precisely known, and to the receiver bandwidth. The NIR principle reduces the effect of receiver gain and offset instabilities and has successfully been implemented in the frame of the SMOS mission. Every Dicke period is divided into three phases (Figure 79):

- The first half of the Dicke cycle contains two phases: First, a precisely known noise contribution is added to the scene measurement. Second, only the noise power from the scene is received.

- During the second half of the Dicke cycle the noise of the Dicke load is measured.

The working principle is based on the balance between the total amount of power received in the first and second half of the Dicke cycle. This is achieved by varying the duty cycle of the noise injection during the first half of the Dicke cycle. - Then, the injected pulse length is integrated along several Dicke cycles. With this approach, the performance of the instrument is independent of variations of the receiver gain, as all its contributions are cancelled in the balancing process. As a result, the brightness temperature captured by the antenna (Ta) can be derived from known parameters:

Ta = Tref - η Tn (1)

Tref being the physical temperature of the Dicke load, Tn the temperature of the noise injected into the system, and η the length of the noise injection (normalized to half a Dicke cycle; equation (1) means that noise has been injected during the whole first half of the Dicke cycle). Equation (1) can only be used in case Ta is below Tref. If this condition is not met (for very hot scenes, or for a cold receiver), the instrument loses its balanced condition and works in a DNB (Dicke Non-Balanced) mode, in which η goes to 0 and the antenna temperature is retrieved from voltage difference (Ve) between the power integration of the first and the second half of the Dicke cycle:

Ve = G x (Ta-Tref) ⇒ Ta = Ve/G + Tref (2)

where G is the gain of the receiver that is also periodically calibrated. Equations (1) and (2) are the so-called NIR and DNB equations. Both η and Ve are integrated over 12 Dicke cycles, and then included in the science TM packets.


Figure 79: Power detected along one Dicke cycle (image credit: ESA)

GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receiver

A dual-frequency instrument based on GPS constellation - and optionally on Galileo. The objective is to provide data for precise orbit determination (POD), established after ground processing. In addition, the GNSS receiver will provide real-time navigation bulletins periodically, as required by the open loop tracking mode of the altimeter, with an accuracy of about 3 m rms. This information is used to control SRAL's open-loop tracking and for Sentinel-3 navigation. Ground processing yields the altitude to an accuracy of < 8 cm within 3 hours for operational applications, and 2 cm after some days of refinement.

The 11 kg GNSS receiver can track up to 12 satellites at the same time. The signals transmitted by the navigation satellites are also disturbed by the ionosphere. The effect is corrected by comparing two signals at different frequencies within 1160-1590 MHz.


Figure 80: Photo of the GNSS receiver (image credit: ESA)

LRR (Laser Retroreflector):

LRR is a passive device, composed of a set of corner cubes (mass of 1 kg). The LRR is mounted on the Earth panel of the spacecraft. Its purpose is to enable the accurate localization of the satellite from the ground, through laser ranging techniques. A network of laser ground stations (SLR) will be used for this purpose and their measurements will contribute to refining and validating the POD solutions derived from GNSS data.


Figure 81: Photo of the LRR instrument (image credit: ESA)

Sentinel-3 (S3) Ground Segment:

The main objective of the Sentinel-3 mission is the provision of ocean observation data in routine, long term and continuous fashion with a consistent quality and a very high level of availability. In addition, the mission will be designed to generate land optical observation products, ice topography, vegetation and land hydrology products. The different elements composing the Sentinel-3 system and the related interfaces for the provision of the operational marine and land services are shown Figure 82. 79)

In the frame of the Cooperation Agreement on the GMES space component, ESA and EUMETSAT have established a specific implementing arrangement concerning the cooperation on Sentinel-3. On this basis, following completion of spacecraft in-orbit commissioning, EUMETSAT will be responsible for the operation of the mission covering the products for the marine user community and the monitoring and control of the spacecraft in routine phase.


Figure 82: Overview of the Sentinel-3 system (image credit: ESA, EUMETSAT)

The GMES Sentinel-3 ground segment is in charge of the overall commanding and monitoring of the spacecraft constellation (2 S/C) as well as the acquisition, processing and dissemination of their observational data. The two primary components of the ground segment are the FOS (Flight Operation System) and the PDGS (Payload Data Ground Segment).

The different elements composing the Sentinel-3 system and the related interfaces for the provision of the operational marine and land services include (Figure 82) :

• The Sentinel-3 satellite(s), which produce and downlink the observation data

• The Sentinel-3 Ground Segment, which acquires the observation data and produce the operational products

• Interfaces to:

- The S3-Mission Management charged with the overall responsibility for the routine mission of the Sentinel-3 system

- DAS (Data Access Ground Segment) as the gateway between the users and the Sentinel-3 Ground Segment. The DAS forwards users’ requests to the PDGS and delivers the related data products generated by the PDGS. The DAS is capable to manage users’s communities, providing access to different classes of Users, with different priorities, specific rules, access privilege and security limitations

- SSALTO (Segment Sol multimissions d'ALTimétrie, d'Orbitographie et de localisation précise) operated under responsibility of CNES. SSALTO is a multi-mission ground segment which interfaces with the FOS to provide command information for DORIS and it will interface PDGS to receive DORIS mission raw data and to provide auxiliary data for PDGS POD (Precise Orbit Determination)

- Expert Teams as a privileged set of users which support the Satellite Commissioning phase and for this reason interface with the PDGS.

FOS (Flight Operation System):

The FOS main responsibility encompasses the spacecraft monitoring and control, including execution of all platform activities and the commanding of the payload schedules.

• The Ground Station and Communications Network performing telemetry, telecommand and tracking operations within the S-band frequency. The S-band ground station used throughout all mission phases will be the ESA Kiruna terminal (complemented by the Svalbard and Troll as backup stations).

• FOCC (Flight Operations Control Center), including:

- The Mission Control System, supporting hardware and software Telecommand coding and transfer, HKTM (Housekeeping Telemetry) data archiving and processing tasks essential for controlling the mission, as well as all FOCC external interfaces

- The Mission Planning System (part of the Mission Control System), supporting command request handling and the planning and scheduling of spacecraft/payload operations

- The Spacecraft Simulator, supporting procedure validation, operator training and the simulation campaign before each major phase of the missions

- The Flight Dynamics System, supporting all activities related to attitude and orbit determination and prediction, preparation of slew and orbit maneuvers, spacecraft dynamics evaluation and navigation.

• A General Purpose Communication Network, providing the services for exchanging data with any other external system during all mission phases.

Two instances of the FOS exist in the Sentinel-3 system. Up to end of commissioning of the space segment (i.e. launch+5 months), the FOS instance based at ESA/ESOC is responsible for flight operations, following hand-over the responsibility for flight operations will be with the FOS instance based at EUMETSAT.

To optimize the use of resources, reduce the development risk, and to meet the challenging schedule, it has been agreed to adopt a specific cooperation approach in relation to the FOS implementation, IVV (Integration, Verification and Validation) and operations. The concept relies on:

- The use of the same facilities for the FOS main components, including Mission Control System, Spacecraft Simulator, Flight Dynamics specific modules

- The development under a Joint Team of common Operations Preparation (OPSPREP) products, including Flight Operations Procedures and Spacecraft Operations Database

- The provision by ESA/ESOC of specific services to EUMETSAT, including the TT&C ground stations, the back-up Control Center, the debris collision prediction, and operations support during all mission phases.

During all mission phases, ESA/ESOC will provide a set of specific services in support of the EUMETSAT FOS. This includes the use of the S-band ground station passes needed for satellite control. This service will rely on the ESTRACK Kiruna site as primary station, with Svalbard and Troll acting as back-up in support of contingency or special operations. The baseline is that two S-band passes per day are provided to EUMETSAT, which is compatible with the Sentinels operations concept. The S-band Services will cover a mechanism for provision of additional S-band passes upon EUMETSAT request.


Figure 83: Mission context showing the data distribution for an operational ocean forecasting system (image credit: ESA)

PDGS (Payload Data Ground Segment):

The access to the Sentinel data will be provided through a dedicated Ground Segment infrastructure where the PDGS is one building block. For Sentinel 3, this is currently implemented by ESA in conjunction with EUMETSAT. TelespazioVega Deutschland is leading the Core PDGS implementation, with ACS, Werum, and Telespazio Italy as partners. 80)

The PDGS is primarily in charge of receiving and processing the Sentinel-3 instrument payload data, including HKTM data; ensuring that satellite tasking is performed according to the overall GMES user requirements and satellite capabilities; guaranteeing that suitable Sentinel-3 products meeting the expected quality and timeliness constraints are available to the GMES Users; and of all necessary support activities.

For the Sentinel 3 mission, the following product delivery timeliness are foreseen:

• NRT (Near Real Time) products made available to the users in less than 3 hours after sensing.

• STC (Short Time Critical) products made available to the users in less than 48 hours after sensing.

• NTC (Non-Time Critical) products made available less than 1 month after sensing.

As per mission requirements and on-board instruments, the processing is broadly grouped into Land data processing and Marine data processing.

Distributed Centers: The Sentinel-3 PDGS functions are distributed across a number of centers and locations, as illustrated in Figure 84.


Figure 84: Sentinel-3 PDGS configuration (image credit: ESA, EUMETSAT)

• A primary CGS (Core Ground Station) at Svalbard, providing X–band service, and where the acquisition and ingestion function is deployed, together with the NRT processing chains for the Land products.

• A backup CGS that provides a backup X-band service covering for planned unavailability of the prime CGS X-band service.

• A Land PAC (Processing and Archiving Center) for the NTC production of the OLCI products.

• A Land PAC for the STC/NTC production of the SRAL and MWR products.

• A MPC (Mission Performance Center) hosting the Mission Performance Monitoring function for Land products

• A Marine Center, hosting the NRT and STC/NTC production for all Marine products, as well as their own Mission Performance Monitoring function.

Specific platforms are deployed at the centers to support different activities: operational platform for the routine operations, reference platform for validation, reprocessing platform to support reprocessing campaigns, and development platforms to support maintenance and evolution of the system.

Automation: The Sentinel-3 PDGS operational concept is driven by the requirement of largely automated operation with no routine manual interaction required for nominal processing. All PDGS elements are autonomously running in nominal operations during time periods where an operator is not available. This is achieved by:

• a data driven approach implemented across the whole PDGS, whereby software components are activated on the availability of the data they require as input

• machine-to-machine interfaces between components for propagating configuration and workflow changes.

For the routine operation (i.e. systematic processing, circulation, archiving, etc.), immediate operator intervention is only required in case of critical failures, that are identified by the monitoring component. A notification-based approach allows the system to execute the nominal workflows based on the availability or change of input data without explicit user intervention.

Nominal operations are completely automatic and can be managed without operator intervention.

NRT (Near Real Time) system: One of the key requirements driving the design of the Sentinel-3 PDGS is the capability to acquire, process, and make the data available to the users in Near Real Time, i.e. within 3 hours from sensing.

In the Sentinel-3 mission all the data downlinked by the satellite is processed in near real time, producing a complete set of Level 0, Level 1 and Level 2 products. Level 1 and Level 2 products are directly accessible by the end users, while the access to the Level 0 products is limited to special users.

The deployment of components across different ground stations adds a constraint to the architecture, as:

• Raw data is acquired in the CGS Center

• Land NRT products are processed in the CGS Center

• Marine NRT products are processed in the Marine PDGS Center, starting from the same raw data used in the Land case.

In order to cope with the NRT timeliness requirements and the processing deployment constraints, the design of the acquisition and ingestion functionality has been built focussing on two key concepts:

• data "granules" pipelined processing

• NRT data circulation.

According to the mission requirements, the data flowing from the satellites to the acquisition ground stations is not processed as a single monolithic entity after the completion of the passes. The chosen approach has been to divide the input data stream in size-optimized granules while the acquisition is on- going.

Marine Center: The Marine Center implements the processing, archiving, and dissemination for all marine products and all levels of processing, for NRT as well as NTC/STC timeliness. It relies on the following functions:

The Processing function applies all the necessary data processing levels, starting from the reconstructed payload science data (Instrument Source Packets) to produce Level 0 to the algorithms and formatting techniques to generate higher level products. The processing function is capable of producing the desired products in a systematic way. It is essentially composed of a processing management layer, controlling the data processors required for each level of processing and each timeliness.

The Long Term and Short Term Archives ensure the long-term and short-term storage of the payload data products and of the auxiliary data according to the longterm/short-term storage policy. These functions include all operations to be put in place to store and to circulate the data within the PDGS and to ensure their integrity according to the applicable requirements. They also include the inventory (at the appropriate level) of the stored data to enable their retrieval by the PDGS for internal purposes and by the PDGS users.


Figure 85: Schematic view of the Marine Center functions (image credit: ESA, EUMETSAT)

EUMETCast is the EUMETSAT generic multi-mission dissemination system based on the standard DVB-S (Digital Video Broadcast-Satellite) multicast technology. EUMETCast is the main dissemination mechanism for distribution of data to EUMETSAT’s end users (Ref. 80).

Sen3Exp (Sentinel-3 Experiment) campaign:

ESA conducted the Sen3Exp airborne campaign in June and July 2009. The campaign started in Barrax, La Mancha, Spain. An aircraft operated by the Spanish National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA), equipped with three hyperspectral imaging spectrometers, made two flights over the area. Meanwhile, satellite data were acquired by Envisat’s MERIS and AATSR instrument and by the CHRIS (Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer) instrument aboard ESA’s PROBA-1 satellite. At the same time, ground teams, under the direction of Prof. Jose Moreno from the University of Valencia, made atmospheric radiometric and biophysical measurements. 81)


Figure 86: Photo of the CASA aircraft instrumentation (image credit: ESA)

Legend to Figure 86: Hyperspectral imaging spectrometers were installed on board INTA’s CASA-212-200 aircraft in support of the Sen3Exp airborne campaign. The AHS (Airborne Hyperspectral System) occupies the left-hand port; the CASI-1500i (Compact Airborne Spectrographic Imager) on the left and the SASI-600 (Shortwave Infrared Airborne Spectrographic Imager) occupy the right-hand port.

The campaign then moved to Pisa in Italy, from where a pine forest at San Rossore could be reached. At San Rossore, Prof. Federico Magnani from the University of Bologna oversaw the week-long ground measurement program. The dataset was again complemented with MERIS, AATSR and CHRIS satellite data.

In July, activities focused on the marine environment where measurements were taken at two oceanic sites: the Boussole monitoring buoy in the Ligurian Sea and the Aqua Alta Oceanographic Tower (AAOT) in the Adriatic Sea, close to Venice. Both sites have played an important role in supporting ocean color algorithm development and product validation for many years.


Figure 87: Photo of the AAOT (Aqua Alta Oceanographic Tower) in the northern Adriatic Sea (image credit: ESA)

Boussole typifies the global ocean, where the measured signal is determined solely by the absorption of phytoplankton. AAOT is in an area where there is both open ocean water and also water that is optically complex because phytoplankton, suspended sediments and colored dissolved organic matter also affect the measured signal. Such water can be found in all coastal regions and represents a challenge to analyze and interpret the data from spaceborne measurements.

A unique, comprehensive and valuable dataset has been created that will significantly support the development of the Sentinel-3 mission.

Permanent calibration station for altimeters in Crete with microwave transponder

The Technical University of Crete (TUC) is installing a new permanent microwave transponder ground infrastructure on the Island of Crete, Greece, to serve as an alternative and independent technique for the calibration of, mainly, European altimetric missions. The facility was initially planned as a calibration site for the Sentinel-3 in the south west of Crete, Greece, using the developed transponder. However, this ground infrastructure, along with other permanent facilities in Crete, may also be used for the calibration of other Ku-band altimetric missions such Jason-2, Cryosat-2, etc. 82)

The idea for incorporating land based transponders was initially introduced in 2000. 83) A microwave transponder is an electronic equipment which receives the pulsed radar signal, transmitted by the altimeter of the over-passing satellite and actively amplifies and retransmits the signal towards the spacecraft, where it is recorded. The time delay of the signal is measured, from which the absolute range between the transponder and the satellite can be deduced. The main advantage of this technique, compared to the conventional sea-surface calibration, stands for the fact that no ocean dynamics errors are involved in satellite altimeter’s calibration.

However, in the past, only few transponders have been built and implemented for this reason. The ESA premises in Svalbard, Norway host a transponder developed by RAL, UK in 1987 that has been used mainly for the Cryosat-2 calibration. The Gavdos Island Cal/Val facility in Greece hosted the Austrian Academy of Sciences transponder and that transponder has been effectively used for the calibration of Envisat and Jason-2 missions. There has been another transponder placed in Rome, Italy which was used for the Envisat sigma-0 calibration.

TUC transponder:

In 2011, the Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering Laboratory at the Technical University of Crete in Greece developed a new Ku-band microwave transponder. The TUC transponder is mobile, allowing calibration at different locations but also modular for operating in other frequencies, provided that some parts are modified. It is capable of recording the incoming and outgoing signals, while it can be controlled and operated remotely. The transponder frequency has been selected to be compatible with past, current and future European as well as international altimetry missions that operate in this microwave range (i.e., Jason series, Cryosat-2, Sentinel-3). Additionally, it is equipped with a GPS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receiver and appropriate meteorological sensors to provide precise time-tagging, as well as the atmospheric delay corrections during transponder calibration. This is of importance for the accurate determination of the altimetric range because the atmosphere affects the altimetric measurements. Furthermore, this prototype transponder is the only microwave transponder that incorporates circularly polarized antennas. The latter, allows performing calibration experiments on different satellite missions at the same location, approaching from different directions, providing that the satellite ground track is in a range of 3-5 km away from the transponder location.



Frequency, bandwidth

13.575 GHz, 350 MHz

Gain stability

0.5 dB

Receiver noise figure

< 8 dB

Internal electronics gain

0.5 dB

Antenna diameter

90 cm

Table 12: TUC’s transponder radio frequency characteristics

The TUC transponder has been characterized for 4 months (March-July 2012) at the CPTR (Compact Payload Test Range) facilities in ESA/ESTEC, the Netherlands.

The transponder has already been used for the calibration of several Cryosat-2 passes (10-May, 8-June and 3-August 2013) over the SLR2 (Satellite Laser Ranging 2) site (35° 32.084' N, 24° 04.061' E) in North West Crete, Greece, and a clear response has been captured on the satellite’s data (Figure 88).


Figure 88: Cryosat-2 SAR raw waveforms using the transponder at the SLR2 site in Crete, Greece, on May 10, 2013 (image credit: TUC)

A TUC transponder site has been selected on Crete Island which represents a triple cross-over point between Sentinel-3A, -3B and Jason-2&3 (and also Jason-CS, as it will most likely fly over the same Jason-series tracks). This criterion was used to finally define and freeze the ground tracks for Sentinel-3 mission.

The CDN2 (35° 20.729' N, 23° 46.577'E) site is exactly under Jason, 100 m east of Sentinel-3A and 300 m west of the Sentinel-3B ground tracks. The CNES team will verify the satellite signal observed using Jason-2 around the CDN2 candidate.


Figure 89: A triple cross-over point for Sentinel-3A (red), -3B (purple) and Jason series (yellow) exist at the CDN2 site in western Crete (image credit: TUC)

The instruments at the CDN2 site will be protected using either weather-proof boxes or a container with appropriate covers to avoid/reduce any satellite echoes by their metallic parts. Figure 90 illustrates an indicative spatial distribution of the necessary and ancillary instrumentation to be constructed at the CDN2 Sentinel-3 altimeter calibration site. Besides the instrumentation and infrastructure, the preparatory steps taken for the establishment of the CDN2 site involve also the development of appropriate software for data archival and transmission and for the determination of the transponder’s precise positioning.


Figure 90: General infrastructure layout of the CDN2 facility (image credit: TUC)

The Sentinel-3 altimeter calibration site is expected to be fully operational in early 2014, that is about one year prior to the Sentinel-3A launch. During this period, calibration campaigns for the Jason-2 and Cryosat-2 altimetry mission will be performed to test the transponder’s operational capabilities in real-field conditions. These campaigns will aim at: a) delivering altimeter calibration values for these satellites, b) getting familiarized with the remote operation procedures to be followed, and 3) identifying potential upgrades necessary for improving the transponder’s performance.

The transponder is to be upgraded, improved, and characterized before its final deployment and support for Sentinel-3A commissioning phase in 2015.

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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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