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COSMO's eyes on the earthquake

The Italian COSMO-SkyMed satellite constellation provides the first images of the damage caused to towns by the 6.0 magnitude earthquake on 24 August

The first satellite images of the areas struck by the earthquake on 24 August have been made available by the Italian Space Agency: the “eyes” of the COSMO-SkyMed system, at work right from the first hours after the disastrous earthquake that hit the Apennine areas in central Italy, were set in emergency mode and pointed towards the zones affected by the earthquake that hit at 3.36 am last week. The data acquired were processed and analysed with the help of the Civil Protection agency and the INGV to manage the emergency. 

Italian Space Agency President Roberto Battiston commented that: “The COSMO-SkyMed system, activated the same night as the earthquake, started acquiring high-precision images from 26 August, highlighting the areas hit both in terms of individual towns and the entire, vast territory affected by the earthquake. This daily precision monitoring will continue over the next few months, in agreement with the requests of the Civil Protection agency, the INGV Centres and the CNR in order to help identify active fault lines and monitor the effects of the sequence of tremors that followed the first. It is a fundamental tool for our country in evaluating the seismic damage, and afterwards for developing a geophysical model of the areas hit.”



Luigi Pasquali, Director of the Space sector at Leonardo-Finmeccanica, commented that “the e-GEOS centres in Matera and the ‘emergency room’ in Rome have provided constant support for the Italian Space Agency, the Civil Protection agency and the national centres responsible for managing the emergency right from the first hours after the earthquake. Our Emergency Centre produces detailed maps and data on the areas struck by the earthquake, using all the available technology including aerial and satellite, and above all the COSMO-SkyMed constellation. The data received from the Materia Space Centre and subsequently processed provide information on the damage, the state of the infrastructures and an overview of what happened. This example of the level of the applications and space services that the company and the country can count on today is the result of investment and state of the art technological development that places us in the forefront of emergency management worldwide”. 

The COSMO-SkyMed constellation is the first satellite Earth-observation system designed for dual purposes - both civilian and military. Its four satellites are like four “eyes” watching the Earth from space metre by metre, day and night, in any weather conditions. To help forecast landslides and floods, coordinate rescue teams in the case of earthquakes or fires, and to monitor crisis-hit areas from above. Developed by the Italian Space Agency in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, COSMO-SkyMed is based on a constellation of four identical satellites, fitted with x band synthetic aperture radars (SAR) (which can see through clouds and without sunlight). The system is capable of taking up to 1,800 radar images every 24 hours.  

The Italian satellite constellation has been used after the latest large seismic events, not just in Italy but worldwide. For example, in the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, COSMO-SkyMed monitored and transmitted information that would otherwise have been impossible to obtain, given the weather conditions and terrain; for the earthquake in L'Aquila in 2009, Cosmo provided data on the areas hit and subsequently allowed for the fault that started the earthquake to be identified. Again, in 2010 the first post-earthquake image of Haiti arrived only two days after the event, and the satellite constellation continued to scan the area for weeks, providing useful information for assessing the damage; in 2011, for the tsunami in Japan, as part of an agreement with the Japanese space agency Jaxa, the government requested two images and Italy provided 200, covering the entire East coast and allowing the development of the situation in the flooded areas to be mapped over two weeks. This initial request was followed by one from IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) for images of the Fukushima plant.