For all new Earth observation missions, a crucial part of the development process, after defining and designing the instruments, is to assess the future performance of the sensors. In addition, the algorithms being developed to transform the satellite data into usable information products also have to be tested.
In order to make these assessments, ESA organises test campaigns using airborne instruments that closely match the characteristics of the spaceborne sensors. The effort is coordinated with ground-based teams that collect complementary scientific data for calibration and evaluation.
One such campaign was recently completed for Sentinel-3, which is the third in a series of five space missions ESA is developing for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative. Led by the European Commission, GMES will fulfil the growing need among European policy-makers to access accurate and timely information services to manage the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure civil security.
The ‘Sentinel-3 Experiment’ campaign – or Sen3Exp for short – involved a series of coordinated activities with scientists making ground-based measurements in Spain, Italy and the Ligurian and Adriatic Seas, while aircraft with sensitive instrumentation passed overhead and satellites acquired data simultaneously from space. The result is a comprehensive dataset of imagery and ground-truth information that can be used to simulate Sentinel-3 optical data, test the processors under development to generate the data products, and analyse whether these data products will satisfy the requirements of the user communities.
The campaign's Principal Investigator, Dr Carsten Brockmann, confirmed that, “A unique, comprehensive and valuable dataset has been created that will significantly support the development of the Sentinel-3 mission.”
The Sen3Exp campaign began in June in Barrax, La Mancha, Spain. An aircraft operated by the Spanish National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA), equipped with three hyperspectral imaging spectrometers, made two flights over the area. Meanwhile, satellite data were acquired by Envisat’s MERIS and AATSR and by the Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (CHRIS) aboard ESA’s Proba-1 satellite. At the same time, ground teams, under the direction of Prof. Jose Moreno from the University of Valencia, made atmospheric radiometric and biophysical measurements.
The campaign then moved to Pisa in Italy, from where a pine forest at San Rossore could be reached. At San Rossore, Prof. Federico Magnani from the University of Bologna oversaw the week-long ground measurement programme. The dataset was again complemented with MERIS, AATSR and CHRIS satellite data.In July, activities focused on the marine environment where measurements were taken at two oceanic sites: the Boussole monitoring buoy in the Ligurian Sea and the Aqua Alta Oceanographic Tower (AAOT) in the Adriatic Sea, close to Venice. Both sites have played an important role in supporting ocean colour algorithm development and product validation for many years.
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