The European program for the satellite observation of Earth

COPERNICUS, previously known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), is a complex program of Earth observation by satellite launched in 1998 by the European Commission and by a pool of space agencies. As a contribution of the "Old Continent", it is part of  the wider GEOSS project that aims at developing a complex set of systems for the global observation of Earth. However, its main object is to give Europe a substantial independence in the acquisition and management of data on the state of the planet's health, supporting the requirements of European public policies by supplying accurate and reliable services related to environmental and security issues.

The management of natural disasters, the monitoring of oceans, vegetation and atmosphere are considered "Priorities" among the various applications within the program. But the development of the project anticipates that GMES will play a very important role in other fields: from climate change monitoring, to civil protection and sustainable development. Without neglecting the impact on social and security community policies: the system will in fact ensure the possibility of managing accurate and up-dated data, for instance, on the movements of refugees, on the requirements of logistic support to military missions, on possible terrorist threats.

GMES is based on a series of five types of satellites, called  Sentinels, specialized in specific applications. Sentinel-1 satellites will be used to produce interferometric radar data; Sentinel-2, that are optical satellites, have been designed for multispectral observation; Sentinel-3 are specialized for marine and land observation; Sentinel-4, of the geostationary type, are designed to monitor atmospheric components; finally, Sentinel 5, that are low orbiting satellites, will be dedicated to atmospheric composition monitoring.

In particular, the Sentinel 3, that will be placed in an almost polar heliosyncronic orbit and will weigh approximately 1.200 kilos, will be dedicated to oceanography observation and it will be capable of observing marine topography, the surface temperature of water and land areas providing an essential contribution to sea condition forecasts, which is of fundamental importance to ensure safe shipping but also for earth's climate.

Within the GMES Programme, the European Space Agency has the responsibility of the space segment of the program. In February 2008 the European Commission allocated approximately 624 million Euro for the development of the space segment of GMES, which summed up with the over 700 million Euro that had already been allocated by the member countries of the ESA. At the ministerial meeting of November 2008, another 831 million Euro, of which 120 from Italy, were allocated for the development of GMES.

The realization of the Sentinels was assigned to the main European companies: The Franco-Italian company Thales Alenia Space will realize Sentinel 1 and Sentinel 3, whereas the German company Astrium has been entrusted with the realization of Sentinel 2.