Case study


A European mission carrying an advanced radar to provide an all-weather, day-and-night supply of imagery of Earth's surface.

Artist's impression of Sentinel-1
Artist's impression of Sentinel-1. Credit: ESA–P. Carril

Sentinel-1A can ‘see’ through cloud and rain and in pitch darkness. This makes it particularly useful for monitoring floods and for offering images for emergency response. Among other applications, images such as this will be used for urban planning, for monitoring agriculture, for mapping deforestation and for managing water resources. Sentinet-1A:

  • launched 3 April 2014 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana
  • delivered first radar images of Earth on 12 April 2014
  • Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) for the European Commission Copernicus environmental monitoring programme.
  • Expected life span of 7 years

Sentinel-1 has been designed to focus on reliability, operational stability, global coverage and quick data delivery.

The mission will benefit numerous services. For example, services that relate to the monitoring of Arctic sea-ice extent, routine sea-ice mapping, surveillance of the marine environment, including oil-spill monitoring and ship detection for maritime security, monitoring land surface for motion risks, mapping for forest, water and soil management, and mapping to support humanitarian aid and crisis situations. It is also designed for responding rapidly to aid emergencies and disasters such as flooding and earthquakes.

For more detailed information, please see the Sentinel-1 pages on the ESA website.

Mission Facts

As a future constellation of two satellites (Sentinel-1A and -1B) orbiting 180° apart, the mission will scan every place on Earth every six days and will transmit data to ground stations around the world for rapid dissemination.

The Sentinel-1 satellites will be the first of the family of Sentinel satellites that will provide data for the European Commissions Copernicus programme.


Designed and built by a consortium of around 60 companies led by Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space. The C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) at 5.405 GHz builds on ESA’s and Canada’s heritage SAR systems on ERS-1, ERS-2, Envisat and Radarsat.

As well as transmitting data to a number of ground stations around the world for rapid dissemination, Sentinel-1 also carries a laser to transmit data to the geostationary European Data Relay System for continual data delivery.

UK Involvement

The heart of the radar, the Integrated Central Electronics package, was supplied by the UK arm of Airbus Defence and Space (formerly Astrium) and is one of the most advanced units of its type in the world.

Published 7 May 2014