France: To build the next Earth Explorer: the Biomass satellite, ESA, Airbus Defence and Space UK signed a €229 million contract last week. The aim of this joint venture is to prepare global maps of how much carbon is stored in the world’s forests and how this stock is changing over time, mainly through the absorption of carbon dioxide, which is released from the burning of fossil fuels.
The satellite will also provide essential support to UN treaties on the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Earth Explorer missions focus on the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and Earth’s interior. Learning more about the interactions between these components and the impact that human activity is having on natural Earth processes is emphasised.
Flying in a near-polar, Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 660 km, it will measure biomass at a resolution of 200 m and deforestation at 50 m. In addition, the mission will have an experimental ‘tomographic’ phase to provide 3D views of forests. The radar will provide all-weather imaging from space, that includes providing measurements to determine the amount of carbon stored in forests.
The data will support REDD+, a UN climate change initiative aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation, by systematically monitoring forests in vulnerable areas with no need for ground intervention.
“Biomass is another one of those missions reaching the frontiers, technically speaking,” noted Volker Liebig, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes at the contract signing in Stevenage, UK. “Just like our other Earth Explorers, it is a first. It will be the first P-band radar instrument in space delivering information on the actual carbon mass in Earth’s forests, information that is fundamental for a better understanding of the carbon cycle and global biomass.”