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Sentinel-3A: European satellite launched to track global warming

The satellite has been launched into space on a mission to measure the oceans, rivers, lakes and sea ice. The Sentinel-3A is part of the most sophisticated Earth observation system ever.

The 1,200 kilogram (2,645 lb) satellite blasted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia on Tuesday evening, as part of the European Commission's 9-billion-euro ($10-billion) Copernicus program.

The Sentinel-3A was attached to a Russian-made launcher known as "Rockot" (Rumble), a decommissioned ballistic missile which transported its payload towards its final destination in orbit, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) above Earth.

In doing so, the

Sentinel-3A became the third observation satellite

launched into space as part of a European Space Agency project to monitor the effects of global warming.

Its mission is to deliver ice, land ocean and coastal monitoring, sea-level change as well as environment monitoring.

The project team said the new satellite would be fully activated within three days and should be operational by mid-July after extensive testing.

Data has multiple uses

Sentinel-3A, which has a 7-year life span, will also be able to spot upcoming droughts and identify spots where large numbers of refugees may be gathering to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Scientists said the communications device can deliver data to the Copernicus team within three hours of sensing, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The data can be used by policymakers and academics to

analyze in almost real-time, even small changes in the environment, they added.

Sentinel 1A and 2A, which were launched in 2014 and 2015 respectively, were designed to provide land surveys to allow better disaster responses. They are equipped with radar and high-resolution cameras, to which Sentinel-3A will add more sophisticated instruments.

A 20-year program

The EU-funded Copernicus program eventually plans more than a dozen satellites in what scientists have described as the most ambitious Earth Observation system to date.

Sentinel-3B is due to be launched next year, which ESA officials say - with Sentinel-3A - will be able to map the world every two days.

Last week, the ESA signed a 450-million-euro contract with Thales Alenia Space of France to manufacture two further satellites, which officials said secure the project's future until 2030.

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