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HandWiki. Copernicus Programme. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 15 June 2024).
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HandWiki. "Copernicus Programme" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 15, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, November 11). Copernicus Programme. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Copernicus Programme." Encyclopedia. Web. 11 November, 2022.
Copernicus Programme

Copernicus is the European Union's Earth observation programme coordinated and managed by the European Commission in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), the EU Member States and EU Agencies. It aims at achieving a global, continuous, autonomous, high quality, wide range Earth observation capacity. Providing accurate, timely and easily accessible information to, among other things, improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure civil security. The objective is to use vast amount of global data from satellites and from ground-based, airborne and seaborne measurement systems to produce timely and quality information, services and knowledge, and to provide autonomous and independent access to information in the domains of environment and security on a global level in order to help service providers, public authorities and other international organizations improve the quality of life for the citizens of Europe. In other words, it pulls together all the information obtained by the Copernicus environmental satellites, air and ground stations and sensors to provide a comprehensive picture of the "health" of Earth. One of the benefits of the Copernicus Programme is that the data and information produced in the framework of Copernicus are made available free-of-charge to all its users and the public, thus allowing downstream services to be developed. The services offered by Copernicus cover six main interacting themes: atmosphere, marine, land, climate, emergency and security. Copernicus builds upon three components: Its cost during 1998 to 2020 are estimated at 6.7 billion euros with around €4.3bn spent in the period 2014 to 2020 and shared between the EU (66%) and ESA (33%) with benefits of the data to the EU economy estimated at roughly 30 billion euros through 2030. ESA as a main partner has performed much of the design and oversees and co-funds the development of Sentinel missions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 with each Sentinel mission consisting of at least 2 satellites and some, such as Sentinel 1, consisting of 4 satellites. They will also provide the instruments for Meteosat Third Generation and MetOp-SG weather satellites of EUMETSAT where ESA and EUMETSAT will also coordinate the delivery of data from upwards of 30 satellites that form the contributing satellite missions to Copernicus.

satellite missions quality of life health

1. History

The Copernicus programme was established by the Regulation (EU) No 377/2014[1] in 2014, building on the previous EU's Earth monitoring initiative GMES (est. by Regulation (EU) No 911/2010[2]).

Over a few decades, European and national institutions have made substantial R&D efforts in the field of Earth observation. These efforts have resulted in tremendous achievements but the services and products developed during this period had limitations that were inherent to R&D activities (e.g. lack of service continuity on the long-term). The idea for a global and continuous European earth observation system was developed under the name of Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) which was later re-branded into Copernicus after the EU became directly involved in financing and development. It follows and greatly expands on the work of the previous 2.3 billion euros European Envisat program which operated from 2002 to 2012.

Copernicus moved from R&D to operational services following a phased approach:

  • 2008 – 2010: Copernicus pre-operational services (FTS and Pilot services)
  • 2011 – 2013: Copernicus initial operations
  • From 2014: Copernicus fully operational services

1.1. Chronology

  • 19 May 1998: institutions involved in the development of space activities in Europe give birth to GMES through a declaration known as "The Baveno Manifesto". At that time, GMES stands for "Global Monitoring for Environmental Security".
  • Year 1999: the name is changed to "Global Monitoring for Environment and Security", thus illustrating that the management of the environment also has security implications.
  • 2001: at the occasion of the Gothenburg Summit, the Heads of State and Government request that "the Community contribute to establishing by 2008 a European capacity for Global Monitoring for Environment and Security".
  • October 2002: the nature and scope of the "Security" component of GMES are defined as addressing prevention of and response to crises related to natural and technological risk, humanitarian aid and international cooperation, monitoring of compliance with international treaties for conflict prevention, humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and surveillance of EU borders.
  • February 2004: the Commission Communication "GMES: Establishing a GMES capacity by 2008" introduces an Action Plan aimed at establishing a working GMES capacity by 2008. In 2004, a Framework Agreement is also signed between EC and ESA, thus providing the basis for a space component of GMES.
  • May 2005: the Commission Communication "GMES: From Concept to Reality" establishes priorities for the roll-out of GMES services in 2008, the initial focus being on land monitoring, marine monitoring and emergency response services, also known as Fast Track Services (FTS). Later services, also known as Pilot Services, are expected to address atmosphere monitoring, security and climate change.
  • June 2006: the EC establishes the GMES Bureau, with the primary objective of ensuring the delivery of the priority services by 2008. Other objectives of the GMES Bureau are to address the issues of the GMES governance structure and the long-term financial sustainability of the system.
  • May 2007: adoption of the European Space Policy Communication, recognising GMES as a major flagship of the Space Policy.
  • September 2008: official launch of the three FTS services and two Pilot services in their pre-operational version at the occasion of the GMES Forum held in Lille, France.
  • November 2008: the Commission Communication "GMES: We care for a Safer Planet" establishes a basis for further discussions on the financing, operational infrastructure and effective management of GMES.
  • May 2009: the Commission Proposal for a Regulation on "the European Earth Observation Programme (GMES) and its initial operations (2011-2013)" proposes a legal basis for the GMES programme and EC funding of its initial operations.
  • November 2010: the regulation on "the European Earth Observation Programme (GMES) and its initial operations (2011-2013)" entered into force.
  • June 2011: the Commission presents its proposal for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) corresponding to the period 2014-2020 (Communication “A Budget for Europe 2020”). In this document, the Commission proposes to foresee the funding of the GMES programme outside the multiannual financial framework after 2014.
  • November 2011: The Commission Communication on the "European Earth monitoring programme (GMES) and its operations (from 2014 onwards)" presents the Commission's proposals for the future funding, governance and operations of the GMES programme for the period 2014 - 2020. In particular, the Commission proposes to opt for the creation of a specific GMES fund, similar to the model chosen for the European Development Fund, with financial contributions from all Member States, based on their Gross National Income (GNI).
  • April 2012: The Emergency Management Service – Mapping ("EMS-Mapping") is declared the first fully operational service within the GMES Initial Operations.[3]
  • December 2012: the Commission announces the name change to Copernicus.
  • October 2014: ESA and European Commission have established a budget for Copernicus Programme covering years 2014-2020 within Multiannual Financial Framework. Budget provided a total of €4.3 billion, including €3.15 billion for ESA to cover operations of the satellite network and construction of the remaining satellites.[4][5]

2. Earth Observation Missions

2.1. Sentinel Missions

ESA is currently developing seven missions under the Sentinel programme (Sentinel 1, 2, 3, 4, 5P, 5, 6). The Sentinel missions include radar and super-spectral imaging for land, ocean and atmospheric monitoring. Each Sentinel mission is based on a constellation of two satellites to fulfill and revisit the coverage requirements for each mission, providing robust datasets for all Copernicus services. The Sentinel missions will have the following objectives:

  • Sentinel-1 provides all-weather, day and night radar imaging for land and ocean services. The first Sentinel-1A satellite was successfully launched on 3 April 2014, by an Arianespace Soyuz, from the Centre Spatial Guyanais.[6] The second Sentinel-1B satellite was launched on 25 April 2016 from same spaceport with similar rocket.
  • Sentinel-2 provides high-resolution optical imaging for land services (e.g. imagery of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas). Sentinel-2 will also provide information for emergency services. The first Sentinel-2 satellite, Sentinel-2A, successfully launched on 23 June 2015.[7] The second Sentinel-2 satellite, Sentinel-2B, followed 7 March 2017. Both satellites launched aboard Vega rockets from Centre Spatial Guyanais.
  • Sentinel-3 provides ocean and global land monitoring services. The first Sentinel-3A satellite was launched on 16 February 2016 by a Eurockot Rokot vehicle from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.[8][9] The second Sentinel-3B satellite followed 25 April 2018, also from Plesetsk aboard a Rokot.
  • Sentinel-4, embarked as a payload upon a Meteosat Third Generation Satellite, will provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring. It will be launched in 2023.[10]
  • Sentinel-5 Precursor - is a subset of the Sentinel 5 sensor set. It was launched on 13 October 2017 by a Eurockot Rokot vehicle from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.[11] The primary purpose of this is to reduce the data gap (especially SCIAMACHY atmospheric observations) between the loss of ENVISAT in 2012, and the launch of Sentinel-5 in 2021.[12] The measurements will be done by the Tropomi spectroscope.[13]
  • Sentinel-5 will also provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring. It will be embarked on a EUMETSAT Polar System Second Generation (EPS-SG) spacecraft and launched in 2021.[10]
  • Sentinel-6 is intended to provide continuity in high precision altimetry sea level measurements following the Jason-3 satellite. Sentinel-6A, also known as the Jason Continuity of Service A (Jason-CS A), is scheduled for launch in November 2020 by a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle from Vandenberg SLC-4E.[14] On 28 January 2020, the Sentinel 6A was renamed Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich.[15] Sentinel-6B, is scheduled for launch in 2026.[16]

In preparation for the second-generation of Copernicus (Copernicus2.0), six High Priority Candidate "expansion" missions are currently being studied by ESA to address EU Policy and gaps in Copernicus user needs, and to increase the current capabilities of the Copernicus Space Component:

  • Sentinel-7: Anthropogenic CO2 emissions monitoring (CO2M)[17]
  • Sentinel-8: High Spatio-temporal Land Surface Temperature (LSTM)[18]
  • Sentinel-9: Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter (CRISTAL)[17]
  • Sentinel-10: Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission for the Environment (CHIME)[17]
  • Sentinel-11: Polar Imaging Microwave Radiometer (CIMR)[17]
  • Sentinel-12: Radar Observing System for Europe - L-band SAR (ROSE-L)[17]

2.2. Contributing Missions

Before the Sentinel missions provide data to Copernicus, numerous existing or planned space missions provide or will provide data useful to the provision of Copernicus services. These missions are often referred to as "GMES Contributing Missions (GCMs)":

  • ERS: The European Remote Sensing Satellite ERS-1 (1991-2000) was ESA's first Earth observation satellite. ERS-2 (1995-2011) provided data related to ocean surface temperature, winds at sea and atmospheric ozone.
  • Envisat (2002-2012): Launched in 2002, ESA's Envisat was the largest civilian Earth Observation spacecraft ever built. It carried sophisticated optical and radar instruments among which the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) and the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS). Envisat provided continuous observation and monitoring of the Earth's land, atmosphere, oceans and ice caps. After losing contact with the satellite on 8 April 2012, ESA formally announced the end of Envisat's mission on 9 May 2012.[19]
  • Earth Explorers: ESA's Earth Explorers are smaller research missions dedicated to specific aspects of our Earth environment. Earth Explorer missions focus on research of the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and the Earth's interior with the overall emphasis on learning more about the interactions between these components and the impact that human activity is having on natural Earth processes. The following two of the nine missions selected for implementation currently (as of 2019) contribute to Copernicus:
    • SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity), launched on 2 November 2009.
    • CryoSat-2 (the measurement of the thickness of floating ice), launched on 8 April 2010.
  • MSG: the Meteosat Second Generation is a joint project between ESA and EUMETSAT.
  • MetOp: MetOp is Europe's first polar-orbiting satellite dedicated to operational meteorology. MetOp is a series of three satellites launched sequentially over 12 years from October 2006 to November 2018. The series provides data for both operational meteorology and climate studies.
  • French SPOT: SPOT (Satellite Pour l'Observation de la Terre) consists of a series of earth observation satellites providing high-resolution images of the Earth. SPOT-4 and SPOT-5 include sensors called VEGETATION able to monitor continental ecosystems.
  • German TerraSAR-X: TerraSAR-X is an Earth observation satellite providing high quality topographic information. TerraSAR-X data has a wide range of applications (e.g. land use / land cover mapping, topographic mapping, forest monitoring, emergency response monitoring, and environmental monitoring).
  • Italian COSMO-SkyMed: the COnstellation of small Satellites for the Mediterranean basin Observation is an Earth observation satellite system that consists of (in the 1st generation) four satellites equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensors. Applications include seismic hazard analysis, environmental disaster monitoring and agricultural mapping. As of 2019, a second-generation of COSMO-SkyMed satellites (called Cosmo-Skymed 2nd generation) is under development.
  • UK and international DMC: The Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) is a constellation of remote-sensing satellites. There have been eight satellites in the DMC-program; 3 are currently (as of 2019) active. The constellation provides emergency Earth imaging for disaster relief under the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters.
  • French-American JASON-2 (2008-2019): The JASON-2 satellite provided precise measurements of ocean surface topography, surface wind speed, and wave height; as this type of measurement is a crucial requirement for the Copernicus Marine Services, the European Commission has included this type of mission in its latest communication on the future Copernicus Space Component as Sentinel 6.
  • French PLEIADES: The PLEIADES constellation consists of two satellites providing very high-resolution images of the Earth
  • Planet Labs, a commercial satellite imagery provider whose goal is to image the entirety of the planet daily to monitor changes and pinpoint trends.

Data provided by non-European satellite missions (e.g. LANDSAT, GOSAT, RADARSAT-2) can also be used by Copernicus.

  • DigitalGlobe, an American commercial vendor of space imagery and geospatial content, provides imagery from satellites with a true maximum resolution of up to 25 cm. The DigitalGlobe tasking constellation currently includes GeoEye-1, WorldView-1, WorldView-2 and WorldView-3. Archive data is also available from IKONOS and QuickBird.
  • LANDSAT programme (8 satellites, 2 active).
  • GOSAT programme (2 satellites, 2 active).
  • RADARSAT-2 satellite.

3. In-Situ Coordination

GMES In-Situ Coordination (GISC). GISC is a FP7 funded initiative, will last for three years (January 2010 – December 2012) and is coordinated by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

In-situ data are all data from sources other than Earth observation satellites. Consequently, all ground-based, air-borne, and ship/buoy-based observations and measurements that are needed to implement and operate the Copernicus services are part of the in-situ component. In-situ data are indispensable; they are assimilated into forecasting models, provide calibration and validation of space-based information, and contribute to analysis or filling gaps not available from space sources.

GISC objectives will be achieved by:

  • documenting the in-situ data needs and data requirements
  • cooperating with the users, stakeholders, and service providers
  • exploring and determining methods to enable networks to provide the required in-situ data for Copernicus
  • exploring approaches to the integration of in-situ assets and networks into long-term sustainable frameworks for Copernicus services
  • providing 'quick-wins'

GISC is undertaken with reference to other initiatives, such as INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) and SEIS (Shared Environmental Information System) as well as existing coordination and data exchange networks. The coordinated access to data will retain the capacity to link directly data providers and the service providers because it is based on the principles of SEIS and INSPIRE. The implementation of INSPIRE is embedded in the synergies and meta-data standards that are used in GISC. Data and information will aim to be managed as close as possible to its source in order to achieve a distributed system, by involving countries and existing capacities that maintain and operate the required observation infrastructure.

4. Services Component

Copernicus services are dedicated to the monitoring and forecasting of the Earth's subsystems. They contribute directly to the monitoring of climate change. Copernicus services also address emergency management (e.g. in case of natural disaster, technological accidents or humanitarian crises) and security-related issues (e.g. maritime surveillance, border control).

Copernicus services address six main thematic areas:

  • Emergency Management Service (see video available on the website: Copernicus Emergency Management Service). The service was declared operational on 1 April 2012.
  • Land Monitoring (see video available on the website: Copernicus Land Monitoring Service). The service was declared operational on 1 April 2012.
  • Marine Environment Monitoring (see video available on the website: Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service). The service was declared operational on 1 May 2015.
  • Atmosphere Monitoring (see video available on the website: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service). The service was declared operational in July 2015.
  • Security (See Copernicus Service for Security Applications)
  • Climate Change (see video available on the website: Copernicus Climate Change Monitoring Service)

The development of the pre-operational version of the services has been realised by a series of projects launched by the European Commission and partly funded through the EU's 7th Framework Programme (FP7). These projects were geoland2 (land), MyOcean (marine), SAFER (emergency response), MACC and its successor MACC II (atmosphere) and G-MOSAIC (security). Most of these projects also contributed to the monitoring of Climate Change.

  • geoland2 started on 1 September 2008. The project covered a wide range of domains such as land use, land cover change, soil sealing, water quality and availability, spatial planning, forest management, carbon storage and global food security.
  • MyOcean started on 1 January 2009. It covered themes such as maritime security, oil spill prevention, marine resource management, climate change, seasonal forecast, coastal activities, ice survey and water pollution.
  • SAFER started on 1 January 2009. The project addressed three main domains: civil protection, humanitarian aid and Security crises management.
  • MACC started on 1 June 2009. The project continued and refined the products developed in the projects GEMS and PROMOTE. A second phase of funding for the pre-operational Copernicus atmospheric monitoring and forecasting service provided by MACC (MACC II) had been secured until July 2014.
  • G-MOSAIC started on 1 January 2009. Together with the LIMES project Wayback Machine (co-funded by the European Commission under FP6), G-MOSAIC specifically dealt with the Security domain of Copernicus addressing topics such as Support to Intelligence & Early Warning and Support to Crisis Management Operations.

5. Interaction

5.1. Users

"The information provided by the Copernicus services can be used by end-users for a wide range of applications in a variety of areas. These include urban area management, sustainable development and nature protection, regional and local planning, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, health, civil protection, infrastructure, transport and mobility, as well as tourism."[20]

Copernicus is the European Union's contribution to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) thus delivering geospatial information globally.

Some Copernicus services make use of OpenStreetMap data in their maps production.[21]

6. Other Relevant Initiatives

Other initiatives will also facilitate the development and functioning of Copernicus services:

  • INSPIRE: this initiative aims at building a European spatial data infrastructure beyond national boundaries.
  • Urban Atlas: Compiled from thousands of satellite photographs, the Urban Atlas provides detailed and cost-effective digital mapping, ensuring that city planners have the most up-to-date and accurate data available on land use and land cover. The Urban Atlas will enable urban planners to better assess risks and opportunities, ranging from the threat of flooding and the impact of climate change, to identifying new infrastructure and public transport needs. All cities in the EU will be covered by the Urban Atlas by 2011.
  • SEIS: The Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) is a collaborative initiative of the European Commission and the European Environment Agency (EEA) to establish together with the Member States an integrated and shared EU-wide environmental information system.
  • Heterogeneous Missions Accessibility, the European Space Agency initiative for interoperability of Earth observation satellite payload data ground segments.

Copernicus is one of three related initiatives that are the subject of the GIGAS (GEOSS, INSPIRE and GMES an Action in Support) harmonization and analysis project [22] under the auspices of the EU 7th Framework Programme.[23]


  1. "Regulation (EU) No 377/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 establishing the Copernicus Programme and repealing Regulation (EU) No 911/2010". European Union. 2014-04-03. Retrieved 2018-10-11. 
  2. "Regulation (EU) No 911/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on the European Earth monitoring programme (GMES) and its initial operations (2011 to 2013)". European Union. 2010-09-22. Retrieved 2018-10-11. 
  3. "Interim Evaluation of the European Earth Monitoring Programme (GMES) and its initial Operations (2011-2013) - Final Report". January 2013. 
  4. "Copernicus operations secured until 2021". ESA. 28 October 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  5. "ESA, European Commission Finalize Copernicus Budget". Via Satellite. 28 October 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  6. "Arianespace boosts Sentinel-1A Earth observation satellite into orbit" (Press release). 3 April 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  7. "Earth Observation Satellite Sentinel-2A Ready to Launch". European Space Agency (SpaceRef). 9 June 2016. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  8. "Sentinel-3 stacks up". ESA. 24 April 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  9. "Sentinel-3A on its way". 
  10. "Copernicus". April 2014. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  11. "ESA books Eurockot Launch for Sentinel-5p Satellite". Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  12. "ESA Sentinels -4, -5 and -5P". Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  13. "Tropomi". Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  14. Clark, Stephen (23 October 2017). "SpaceX, ULA win NASA contracts to launch Earth observation satellites". 
  15. "Earth science mission named after former NASA official". January 28, 2020. 
  16. - 10 February 2020
  17. "Thales Alenia Space proposals for the Copernicus project selected by European Space Agency". Thales Group (Press release). 2 July 2020. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  18. Gerhards, Max; Schlerf, Martin; Mallick, Kaniska; Udelhoven, Thomas (24 May 2019). "Challenges and Future Perspectives of Multi-/Hyperspectral Thermal Infrared Remote Sensing for Crop Water-Stress Detection: A Review". Remote Sensing 11 (10): 1240. Retrieved 5 July 2020. 
  19. "ESA declares end of mission for Envisat". ESA. 9 May 2012. 
  20. "Copernicus In Brief". 
  21. Copernicus EMS (2016-08-25). "@OpenStreetMapIt @Ale_Zena_IT Indeed, last OSM shapefile used in our maps production is from 11am today. Thank you for your precious help.". 
  22. GIGAS Methodology for comparative analysis of information and data management systems, OGC 10-028r1, A. Biancalana, P.G. Marchetti, P. Smits, 2010
  23. "The GIGAS Project – Homepage - GIGAS Project". 
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