By Melissa Molseed
Earlier this year, I was one of 100 people who were invited to ESOC in Darmstadt to live tweet the launch of Sentinel-2B, as part of ESA’s Social Space. It was one of the most incredible 37 hours of my life. Private tours around ESOC, exlusive ESA swag both from our gift bag and the ESA shop, the atmosphere, plus my new found Sentinerd (portmanteau of Sentinel and Nerd) friendship group, made it a day I will never forget! As soon as it was over, I was desperate to relive it and religiously refreshed the @social4space twitter account waiting for the next event.
My waiting eventually paid off and on Friday October 13th, I was one of 25 very lucky Sentinerds, once again invited to live tweet about the latest satellite in the Copernicus mission; Sentinel-5P.
It was an unbelievable day. The events started the day before, when we all gathered together to have dinner and got to know each other. The next morning, we arrived at ESTEC and had a briefing, which covered the mission objectives, launch sequence and contingency cases. We then had a guided tour of ESTEC, including the test centre where we got to see the Large Space Simulator (LSS), which is Europe’s single largest vacuum chamber as well as Hydra (Hydraulic Multi-axis Shaker).
For the main event we moved to the Erasmus building, where a moderator kicked off the main proceedings of the day and we got to hear from the various teams and organisations who had contributed to Sentinel-5P!
Then at 11.27am CET atop a Rockot rocket (trying saying that five times!) at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Sentinel-5P launched and by 1.02pm CET we had signal! No disastrous Friday 13th bad luck for us, the planning and attention to detail from every single person that contributed to this mission, from its conception to its orbit and resulted in a collected sigh of relief and joy from all of us.
Now what is Sentinel-5P I hear you ask? Well Sentinel-5P is part of the Copernicus Program, which is the World’s Largest Single Earth Observation Programme. It’s directed by the European Commission in partnership with ESA and its aim is to achieve global, continuous, autonomous, high quality, wide range Earth Observation capacity.
The aim of Sentinel-5P is to fill the data gap and provide data continuity between the retirements of the Envisat Satellite & NASA Aura Mission. Its main application is to provide global information on a multitude of atmospheric gases, aerosols and cloud distributions affecting air quality and climate and it was a joint mission developed by ESA and the Netherlands Space Office. It’s the first sentinel to look at atmospheric composition and it did that with the help of TROPOMI (Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument).
TROPOMI has as 2600km wide swath which allows the whole planet to be mapped every 24 hours. TROPOMI is mounted on the ‘top floor’ of the platform and positioned at an angle of 30° to ensure the instrument points towards Earth. The instrument will map global ozone on a daily basis and contribute to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service to support public policies related to ozone monitoring and public health.
It was another unbelievable day and experience with ESA. We got an exclusive behind the scenes tour at ESTEC; the technical heart of ESA, had a Q&A session with Klaus Zehner (Mission Manager) and Kevin McMullan (Project Manager), we meet Josef Aschbacher (Director of Earth Observation Programmes), met Andre Kuipers and had dinner with Craig Donlon (Copernicus Sentinel-Mission Scientist), Mark Drinkwater (Head, Mission Science Davison) and Daniël ten Bloemendal (the AIT Manager of TROPOMI).
The Copernicus Program truly is a European mission that is benefitting everyone globally. The receiving stations were in ESA countries - Svalboard (NO), Inuvik (CA) & Kiruna (SE). Even the Sentinerds covered the globe with the UK, Spain, the USA, Italy, Bulgaria, Australia, Czech Republic, Mexico, Lithuania, Brazil, Germany, Iran, Morocco, Canada, the Netherlands, Cyprus and France being represented!
I got to catch up with old friends and to make a bunch of new friends, all united by our passion for Space. I hung out with librarians, students, cardiologists, engineers, software developers, meteorologist and marketing managers to name but a few. Some of us worked in industry, some didn’t but we were all there, together, excited to watch this incredible satellite (and instrument launch) and to wait for the data to come back to help us better understand the atmosphere in our planet.
We breathe in 14kg of air a day. Although we stopped the breakdown in the ozone layer, we have not yet recovered from it! Since the industrial revolution, Methane has increased by 150%! I for one am completely and utterly fascinated by Earth Observation and the data we receive from the Copernicus Program and am looking forward to seeing the ongoing data and results from all the Sentinel satellites!
I highly recommend everyone to follow @Social4Space