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Liftoff! Europe's Newest 'Sentinel' Satellite Will Study Earth's Seas, Land and Air

Europe's newest Earth-observation satellite has taken flight.

The Sentinel-3B spacecraft rode to orbit today atop a Rockot rocket, which lifted off from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) north of Moscow, at 1:57 p.m. EDT (1757 GMT, 8:57 p.m. local time in Plesetsk).

If all goes according to plan, the 2,535-lb. (1,150 kilograms) Sentinel-3B will settle into a polar orbit 506 miles (815 kilometers) above Earth — the same path followed by its twin, Sentinel-3A, which launched in February 2016. [Earth from Space: Classic NASA Photos]

Like Sentinel-3A, the newly lofted satellite will use a suite of instruments to keep tabs on Earth's seas, land and air, shedding light on how our planet ticks, and how it's changing. Both Sentinel-3s are designed to operate for at least seven years, and they carry enough fuel to last a dozen years.

Europe's Sentinel-3B Earth-observation satellite launches atop a Rockot rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia on April 25, 2018. (Image credit: ESA)

The Sentinel-3 mission "provides measurements to monitor aquatic biological productivity and marine pollution, to map sea-level change and to forecast the sea state for efficient and safe ship routing," European Space Agency (ESA) officials said in a statement.

"As well as measuring the oceans, the mission also delivers unique and timely information about changing land cover, vegetation, urban heat islands and for tracking wildfires," they added.

Sentinel-3 is part of the Copernicus Earth-observation program, a project run by the European Commission with the aid of ESA. More than 30 satellites currently fall under the Copernicus umbrella, ESA officials said.

The European Sentinel-3B Earth observation satellite is prepared to be attached to its Rockot booster on April 17, 2018 ahead of a planned launch from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The mission launched into orbit on April 25. (Image credit: ESA - S. Corvaja)

Many of these craft are Sentinels that reached orbit in the past few years. For example, the Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B radar satellites launched in April 2014 and April 2016, respectively. Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B got off the ground in June 2015 and March 2017, on missions to gather high-resolution optical imagery. And the pollution-monitoring Sentinel-5P rode a Rockot to orbit in October 2017.

The Rockot has an interesting history: The three-stage, 95-foot-tall (29 meters) rocket was derived from the SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile, which the Soviet Union developed in the 1970s. The rocket began flying space missions in the 1990s, and the German company Eurockot Launch Services — the provider for today's launch — has flown it out of Plesetsk since 2000. 

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Mike Wall
SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.