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Europe's new Earth monitoring probe takes first image

Jenny Winder, News Writer
May 20, 2013, 7:00 UTC

Sen—Proba-V, the European Space Agency's Earth watching satellite, is in good health following its launch last week. The satellite's vegetation imager was switched on Wednesday in time to get a glimpse of France's coast along the Bay of Biscay and the lush interior.

Launched by a Vega rocket from the European Space Agency's (ESA) space port in Kourou, French Guiana, in the early hours of May 7, along with two other satellites, Proba-V was the first of the three satellites to be deployed into a Sun-synchronous near-polar orbit at 820 km altitude, just 55 minutes after launch.

Liftoff of Vega VV02

Liftoff of Vega VV02 from French Guiana. Image credit: ESA–S. Corvaja, 2013.

The miniature satellite is less than a cubic metre in volume, tasked with a full-scale mission: to map land cover and vegetation growth across the entire planet every two days. The data can be used for alerting authorities to crop failures or monitoring the spread of deserts and deforestation.

The effort to bring the mini-satellite to life began immediately, known as the Launch and Early Operations Phase, or LEOP, overseen from ESA's Redu centre in Belgium, where the satellite is controlled from and monitored during its mission.

"The first LEOP milestone was to check the first signs of life from the satellite as it flew over the ESA ground station at Kourou 40 minutes after separation," explained Karim Mellab, Proba-V Project Manager.

"Then a full telemetry session confirmed the stabilisation of the satellite's attitude, or pointing direction. The onboard computer used'magnetorquers', basically magnets interacting with Earth's magnetic field, to control the satellite's attitude and compensate for the spin imparted by the separation.

"Since then, we have been checking the various subsystems one by one, confirming that they have made it through the stress of launch in working order.

"These initial checks are now being followed by a diligent commissioning of every single detail of the overall system platform, instrument and technology demonstration payloads, which will take the next few months."

Proba-V

Proba-V. Image credit: ESA–ATG Medialab.

Proba-V is flying a lighter but fully functional redesign of the Vegetation imaging instruments previously flown aboard France's full-sized Spot-4 and Spot-5 satellites, which have been observing Earth since 1998.