The Space – Strategic Observatory to Sustain and Protect our Planet
Thales Alenia Space Major Role in Earth Observation and Monitoring
How can we protect the environment and preserve the extraordinary planet we live on? How can we ensure civil security from environmental disasters and crisis situations? How can we learn to understand and mitigate the climate change? Although the frontiers of human knowledge have been moved far beyond the boundaries of the solar system, some of mankind’s most important questions still concern our planet and the relationship we have with it. The quality of our life on Earth depends on the answers to these questions, and today, more than ever, space technology is a valuable tool to monitor, analyse and provide solutions both globally and on a smaller scale.
Observing the Earth from space helps us to better understand our planet, but not only in terms of climate change, the analysis of the seas and oceans, the monitoring of the poles, but also soil degradation and deforestation, or more local aspects, such as precision farming.
The most concrete European response to the need to protect our planet is Copernicus, the complex Satellite Earth Observation programme launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in partnership with the European Commission. Its main objective is to guarantee Europe substantial independence in collecting and managing data on the state of health of our planet, supporting the needs of European public policies by providing accurate, reliable services as regards environmental and security aspects. Based on a series of six types of satellites named Sentinels and specialised in specific applications, Copernicus, now in its second generation, is operating as a true orbiting environmental monitoring network. The first three Sentinel missions are based on a constellation of two satellites precisely to meet the needs regarding the ‘revisit’ time (critical in emergency management) as well as the coverage.
Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67 %) and Leonardo (33 %), has always played a role of paramount importance in this programme, involved in five of the six new missions to extend the Copernicus programme and has signed three contracts with ESA to extend the current capabilities of the Sentinel satellites to fulfil EU policy and citizens’ needs. Thales Alenia Space will also be responsible for developing the payloads of two further missions: the CO2M mission, dedicated to measuring global anthropogenic CO2 emissions and thus playing a key role in studying the causes of climate change, through its monitoring, and the IRIS altimeter on board the CRISTAL mission. The integration of space-based radar and optical sensors is essential to monitor the Earth and its life indicators. Thales Alenia Space now covers a wide range of innovative solutions and contributes substantially to the major industrial challenge of a more sustainable planet enshrined in the extension of the Copernicus projects. On the other hand, the CHIME mission will carry a never-before-seen infrared spectrometer operating in the visible and short-wave ranges. It will provide routine hyperspectral observations in support of new and enhanced services in sustainable agricultural and biodiversity management, as well as for the characterisation of soil properties, a key element for healthy vegetation.
Thales Alenia Space builds on an unmatched expertise in Europe for the space-borne environmental monitoring, with programs such as COSMO-SkyMed, now in its second generation, a dual (civil/defense) radar observation system, and the high-resolution optical remote sensing program Pleiades.
In this race against time, the enormous amount of data we obtain thanks to satellite constellations is probably, together with Digital Twin technologies, the most powerful scientific tool available and Space is definitely a privileged observation point.