At the 36th International Symposium on Remote Sensing of Environment in Berlin, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS) signed the development and production contract for the Jason-CS/Sentinel-6A satellite with another to follow as part of the Sentinel-6 mission.
The contract is worth €177 million and the second spacecraft in the mission, Jason-CS/Sentinel-6B, is expected to follow the formal approval of the programme by the Council of EUMETSAT, the European meteorological organisation, in June 2015. The Sentinel-6 mission is co-funded by EUMETSAT and by the European Union via the Copernicus programme.
The Sentinel-6 mission will carry out high-precision measurements of ocean surface topography. The satellites will measure their distance to the oceans’ surfaces with an accuracy of a few centimetres and use this data to map it globally, repeating the cycle every 10 days. Observing changes in sea-surface height using such a high level of precision provides insights into global sea levels, the speed and direction of ocean currents, and ocean heat storage. The measurements made are vital for modelling the oceans. This data will also be used increasingly for weather forecasts and storm surge warnings.
The Sentinel-6 mission is part of Copernicus, the European Earth observation programme, and is a continuation of the programme started in 1992 to collect satellite-based measurements of the oceans’ surfaces. The 1,300kg Jason-CS/Sentinel-6 satellites will ensure that measurements are carried out on a continuous basis from the years 2020 and 2026 respectively, at an altitude of around 1,350 kilometres. Operations for the missions, each running for five and a half years, will be overseen and managed by EUMETSAT in Darmstadt, Germany. Development of the satellites will be based on the highly successful CryoSat programme.
As with CryoSat, Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen will be the prime contractor for the space segment and lead the industry consortium on behalf of ESA. Thales Alenia Space France will construct the main instrument, a radar altimeter, whose predecessor is already being used on CryoSat-2, Jason-3 and Sentinel-3. Further instruments are being developed by NASA/JPL in the USA. The American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also a partner of Sentinel-6/Jason-CS.