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we have lift-off
In the early hours of 1 March, at the European Spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana, an Ariane-5 rocket launched Envisat, the largest and most advanced Earth observation satellite ever built in Europe.
The launch of the European Space Agency's (ESA) satellite was witnessed by dozens of cheering engineers, scientists, and project members at the launch site and ESA centres across Europe.
Rising into a clear sky, the Ariane 5 propelled Envisat towards a high vantage point some 800 kilometres above the Earth's surface.
Envisat, short for environmental satellite, is huge - the size of an articulated lorry. It follows in the footsteps of ESA's successful ERS-1 and ERS-2 missions, first launched in the 1990s.
The satellite will boost Europe's ability to take part in the study of Earth and its environment by supporting research programmes on global warming, climate change, ozone depletion, and ocean and ice monitoring. It will also perform crucial tasks such as pollution and disaster monitoring.
After a flawless lift-off, the Ariane 5 placed Envisat into Sun-synchronous orbit, allowing ESA ground controllers at the space operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, to take full control for the first time of the most complex satellite ever built in Europe.

"This has been a particularly exciting day for ESA and the European space community as a whole," said José Achache, ESA's Director of Earth Observation on the day of the launch.

"Europe is taking an important lead in global observations for worldwide environmental needs and Envisat is going to make a significant impact on the future of remote sensing of the Earth."

Envisat, which cost 2.3 billion euros to build, has ten technologically advanced instruments - more than on any other satellite. These will provide detailed information on the atmosphere, the ocean, the polar ice caps, the vegetation as well as human activity at the surface of the Earth.

the lands we live on   seas, lakes, rivers, and ice   the atmosphere around us  

"We will be able to trace the smallest changes to the Earth's surface anywhere on the globe," said Mr Achache. "The importance of this mission has triggered great interest in the Earth-science community, both at a European level and worldwide."

Commenting from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana, Jacques Louet, ESA's Envisat Programme Manager, admitted that there was a certain risk to pack so much know-how into just one satellite. "However, if we want to have a comprehensive understanding, we must follow this path," he said.

Envisat should be operational after just a few weeks. Every three days the satellite will draw a complete map of the world.

"Now Envisat is in orbit, the culmination of many years' work really begins and we are looking forward to the environmental benefits the satellite is going to bring to Europe," added Mr Achache.


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Since its launch early in the morning of 1 March, Envisat has been circling the Earth 800km above our heads. Safely placed by an Ariane 5 launcher into a Sun-synchronous orbit, it is now preparing to keep watch over the Earth.

A Sun-synchronous orbit passes from the North Pole to the South Pole as the Earth slowly turns below. This orbit was chosen for Envisat as it ensures that the satellite passes over the same place on Earth at roughly the same time of day, when conditions which may effect data, such as lighting, are similar.

Envisat takes approximately 100 minutes to circle the globe and 35 days to cover every corner of the Earth with all its on-board instruments.


The European Space Agency (ESA) was set up in 1975 to open up new pathways in space exploration, develop advanced technologies, and help build an industry able to compete at world-wide level.

These days, the organisation, which represents 15 member countries - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom - is adapting to match the new political climate in Europe.

The ESA is working with the European Community to develop space policies that will focus more on practical and commercial benefits for Europe's citizens. Those benefits include more accurate long-term weather forecasts, monitoring the environment, smarter personal telecommunications, and safer navigation.

About 1,850 people work for the ESA. The agency’s headquarters is in Paris, and there are centres in The Netherlands, Germany and Italy, liaison offices in Washington and Moscow, an office in Brussels, and a spaceport in French Guiana.

Copyright and Permission: The European Space Agency

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