University of Leicester eBulletin

Lord Sainsbury Hails Envisat Mission Milestone

March 2003
No 68

Special Exhibition Marks First Year of Satellite Global Health Check

The world’s most advanced Earth Observation satellite ENVISAT has successfully completed the first 12 months of its five-year mission to give the planet a health check.

The European Space Agency’s £1.4 billion satellite, to which the UK contributed £300 million in funding, was launched in March 2002.

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, of the Department of Trade and Industry, hailed the satellite’s success in its first year recording important environmental data that will help scientists study the behaviour of the planet’s climate and eco-system.

Lord Sainsbury said: “The many scientific instruments aboard ENVISAT have already provided a wealth of environmental data to scientists studying our planet. It is hoped that over the next five years this and additional data will give us a clear picture of the problem of global warming.

“Engineers in the UK played a major role in the development of ENVISAT and we are beginning to see the rewards of this hard work and investment. The UK’s scientific community is now receiving the imagery recorded by the satellite, which will be of immense value in their ongoing monitoring of the ozone layer and environmental change.”

ENVISAT is the largest and most powerful Earth observation satellite ever built. The size of a double-decker bus and weighing 8000 kilos, it houses ten instruments which are currently monitoring the oceans, the land and the atmosphere to provide a better understanding of how our complex environment behaves.

The information gathered by the satellite will be shared by the 14 participants in the ESA programme and used by Governments to help determine long-term environmental policy.

Images of the Earth are being acquired by the Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR), which is a space instrument on board Envisat.

The University of Leicester has a particularly prominent role in the AATSR project. Professor David Llewellyn-Jones from the University's Space Research Centre is the Principal Investigator for the AATSR programme and has also filled that role for the two predecessor instruments. In this capacity he has had responsibility for ensuring that the AATSR will be capable of meeting its scientific objectives of monitoring global climate change and also of advising DEFRA about all aspects of the programme.

[Radar image of Elbe Valley, Germany]
INFORMATION FLOW: Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) image of the Elbe Valley in Sachsen, Germany, showing the river breaking its banks in August 2002, flooding the surrounding areas [Image courtesy ESA]

Also in the Space Research Centre, Dr Marianne Edwards has been the AATSR validation scientist for the past two years, with the responsibility of leading and coordinating a worldwide programme of in situ measurements of surface temperature beneath the satellite to provide a validation of AATSR's performance.

Again at Leicester Space Research Centre, a team of scientists led by Dr John Remedios and another led by Dr Paul Monks are validating and using data from two of ENVISAT’s new atmospheric sensors in a number of research projects concerning different aspects of atmospheric behaviour, including processes that underly the formation and depletion of global ozone. The work of Dr Remedios has focused on the use of ENVISAT data to support a major European campaign, Vintersol, to investigate ozone loss in the Arctic region and Europe over the past winter. 

BNSC and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) are staging a special exhibition of images recorded by ENVISAT during its first year. It is being held at the National Space Centre in Leicester from March 7, during National Science Week.

ENVISAT has already captured images of Hurricane Elida forming off the west coast of Mexico, and observed and recorded events such as the break-up of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica. It also sent back pictures of the Prestige tanker disaster off the coast of Spain last November - images which were used to help monitor the devastating oil slick.

Among other images in the exhibition are those of forest fires in Kazakhstan. It is important to monitor fires as they release greenhouse gases, which can contribute to global warning.

To receive copies of Envisat imagery in this exhibition, please contact Vicky Brightman, at the National Space Centre, in Leicester, on 0116 258 2114.

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