Europe launched the sixth of its Sentinel Earth observation satellites on Friday as part of the multi-billion-euro Copernicus program to monitor volcanic ash and ultraviolet radiation. The Sentinel-5P satellite, part of a system of satellites that is to monitor Earth, blasted off on board a Rockot launcher from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Russia’s north-western Arkhangelsk region at 0927 GMT.
From its orbit 824 kilometers (512 miles) above Earth, it will monitor the planet’s atmosphere for occurrences such as volcanic ash that could put airplanes at risk or high levels of ultraviolet radiation that could cause skin damage. In addition, scientists will use Sentinel-5P’s data to understand better how holes form in Earth’s ozone layer.
The Copernicus project is described by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the most ambitious Earth observation program to date. The European Union and the ESA have committed funding of more than 8 billion euros ($9.5 billion) to it until 2020. The launch of the Copernicus project became especially urgent after Europe lost contact with its Earth observation satellite Envisat in 2012 after 10 years.
Sentinel-5P, also known as Sentinel-5 Precursor, was designed to reduce data gaps between Envisat and NASA’s Aura mission and the launch of Sentinel 5. The first satellite of Europe’s planned Sentinel network launched in April 2014, among other to provide speedy images of land, oceans and waterways.