Europe’s Sentinel-2a satellite in full operation for October 2015 with some early images released

Artist's impression of Sentinel-2a

When Sentinel-2a is joined in orbit by Sentinel-2b, the revisit time to any land surface will be five days or less.

The Sentinel-2a satellite, which takes visible and infrared pictures of the Earth, was launched in June and is now undergoing a period of commissioning.The observer is the second dedicated mission to fly in the European Union’s Copernicus programme. This will see a multi-billion-euro series of satellite sensors put in orbit over the next few years. Sentinel-2a, however, will be the system’s backbone, producing a wide range of imaging products that will focus predominantly on the planet’s land surface. The European Space Agency, which led the development of the platform, released views on what to expect from cities and forests to glaciers and coral reefs.

Sentinel-2a is the European equivalent of America’s Landsat mission, which has been imaging the surface of the Earth for 40 years. The US satellite’s data is free and open, which has driven a multitude of applications. Sentinel’s data has been designed to be complementary, but the platform also represents a big jump in capability.Its imaging instrument will be sensitive across more bands of light (13 versus Landsat’s eight), allowing it to discern more information about the land beneath it; and Sentinel-2a will “carpet map” a much wider strip of ground (290km versus 185km).


Italy’s Venice lagoon, where image demonstrates the ability to monitor sediment transport in coastal waters.

Sentinel-2 image over southern Spain from 12 July 2015, and how information on inland water bodies can be isolated to help better detect changes. By providing measurements of water quality and detecting changes, Sentinel-2 can support the sustainable management of water resources.


Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park (with Uluru, or Ayers Rock, on the right): Australia recently signed an agreement with Esa to host a mirror server for Sentinel-2a data

Irrigation fields

Centre-pivot irrigation fields in Saudi Arabia: A false colour image that highlights the water-fed vegetation in the desert.

Glaciers in western Greenland

Greenland’s glaciers

Corals off Saudi Arabia

Corals off Saudi Arabia: Although primarily a mission to study land surfaces, Sentinel-2a will also return data on coastal waters.


Berlin is one of Europe’s greenest capitals;  false colouring highlights vegetation in red


Naples and Mount Vesuvius: Sentinel data will track environmental change but also inform and help enforce EU policy.

Further information