Airbus Defence and Space

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Sentinel-4: Airbus Defence and Space awarded a further Earth observation contract

• Dual spectrometers will provide first ever continuous observation of the atmosphere from a geostationary orbit
• Contract worth nearly €150 million

Ottobrunn, 11 July 2011 – Airbus Defence and Space, Europe’s leading space company, will be the European Space Agency’s (ESA) prime contractor for the development and construction of two highly accurate instruments designed to monitor the atmosphere. The two spectrometers, known as Sentinel-4, will for the first time gather data on the quality of the Earth’s atmosphere and its chemical composition from a geostationary orbit. Their position at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres will allow seamless observations of Europe and North Africa to be taken hourly.

The data collected in this way is urgently required for climate research; for instance, it would have made it possible to determine the spread of the ash cloud that followed the eruptions of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull and Grimsvotn volcanoes in 2010 and 2011.

“It is only with satellites that we can observe the environment globally and continuously – and with the latest technology. Sentinel-4 will be an important MTG (Meteosat Third Generation) instrument for high-definition monitoring of the atmosphere over Europe. This demonstrates how Airbus Defence and Space’s high-tech expertise serves the environment as well as global security,” said Evert Dudok, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “What’s more, as prime industrial contractor, Airbus Defence and Space will coordinate the work of 45 companies in 11 European countries in the construction of Sentinel-4.” He added that Airbus Defence and Space is already building two Sentinel satellites for Europe’s major Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES*) programme on behalf of ESA.

With this €149.2 million contract for Sentinel-4, Airbus Defence and Space will take charge of a significant element in the GMES programme. The company has already gained valuable experience from developing Envisat, the first European low-Earth orbit environmental satellite, and its Sciamachy instrument, which is the predecessor to Sentinel-4.

The instruments, weighing around 150 kilograms, will be launched in 2019 and 2027 respectively on board the MTG weather satellites and will then each operate for a period of eight years. At the core of these high-tech instruments are two spectrometers that analyse by wavelength the sunlight reflected by gas molecules in the atmosphere. They are sensitive not only to visible light but also to the ultraviolet and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The intensity of specific wavelengths is then measured by CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors similar to the ones found in digital cameras. This gives very precise information on the presence of trace gases such as ozone or nitrogen oxide. It also allows extremely precise measurement of aerosols and the extent of cloud cover.

Airbus Defence and Space is putting together a team of around 45 subcontractors for the development and construction of Sentinel-4. Work will begin in a core team including the Munich-based company Kayser-Threde and atmosphere researchers at IUP University of Bremen.


About GMES

*GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is a joint initiative by the EU and ESA for complex Earth observation using ground- and space-based sensors, with the aim of providing political decision-makers and experts with up-to-the-minute factual information on which to base all manner of decisions concerning environmental, economic, transport and security policy.

The objective of the programme is to integrate the different Earth observation and geoscience activities in Europe, on the one hand by using the existing satellite systems and the data they supply as efficiently as possible, and on other by setting up sustainable operational systems that are specifically adapted to this range of tasks. The Sentinel series of satellites and missions are a response to the Earth observation needs of the GMES programme in Europe. 


About Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space is the number one company in Europe for space technologies and a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services.

In 2010, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €5 billion and more than 15,000 employees worldwide, mainly in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment, and Airbus Defence and Space for comprehensive end-to-end solutions covering secure and commercial satcoms and networks, high security satellite communications equipment, bespoke geo-information and navigation services worldwide.

AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2010, the Group – comprising Airbus, Airbus Defence and Space, Cassidian and Eurocopter – generated revenues of € 45.8 billion and employed a workforce of nearly 122,000.

Press contacts:

Daniel Mosely (Airbus Defence and Space UK)                                                      Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 8180

Gregory Gavroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR)                                                    Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32

Ralph Heinrich (Airbus Defence and Space GER)                                                   Tel.: +49 (0) 89 607 33971

Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP)                                                 Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41


Earth Observation