Airbus Defence and Space

Live from the stars

Where does the GPS voice in your car find its information? How does your marathoner timing device calculate, in real time, your average running speed and the changes in the terrain?

The answer to these questions is one and the same: thanks to the hundreds of satellites revolving around our heads everyday which, working in the shadows of the services they provide, bring all of this information to us from space each day.

Who would have thought, in 1957, that the launch of the Russian Sputnik with its simplistic radio signal would be followed in short time by a true technological revolution? Indeed, it did not take long to find concrete fields of application.

The first terrestrial observations began in the 1970s. NASA, with its Nimbus programme, spotted the first holes in the ozone layer, and studying and monitoring Earth became a new priority for scientists. The American space agency initially focused on global warming, using its seven Landsat satellites which were put into orbit starting in 1972. NOAA’s satellites are also used to observe meteorological phenomena.

In Europe, the renowned Meteosat was one of the first satellites to be launched. It has been providing images for televised weather reports since 1977. Then, in the mid-1980s, the Spot satellites developed by Airbus Defence and Space were sent up into orbit. They allowed the surface of the earth to be observed with precision. Spot 5, launched in 2002, has proved very valuable thanks to its image bank which facilitates the study of phenomena which evolve in time and space. The same year, Envisat, also built by Airbus Defence and Space, was sent into space to monitor Earth’s resources and acquire high resolution images of the atmosphere and the land and ice masses.

The fields of application appear to be countless. To monitor the oceans covering 70% of the surface of the earth, Jason, followed by Jason 2, were put into orbit in the 2000s. They met the requirements of international programs aimed at ocean and climate study and observation. Airbus Defence and Space also played a part in designing GOCE. Launched on 17 March 2009, it is one of the most sophisticated observation satellites produced to date: it provides data on the gravitational field and helps simulate sea currents and sea elevation levels.

Keenly aware of the growing need for precise and reliable information, Airbus Defence and Space is already preparing for the future with ambitious satellite programs. In coming years, the observation of ice melt (CryoSat-2) and climate change (Swarm), along with high resolution imaging (Pleïades), will provide humankind with the keys to saving our environment.