Following preparatory activities and a rigorous process, ESA member states have today formally chosen Harmony for implementation as the 10th Earth Explorer mission under the FutureEO program. This unique satellite mission concept is, therefore, now set to become a reality to provide a wealth of new information about our oceans, ice, earthquakes and volcanoes, which will make a significant contribution to climate research and risk monitoring.
Crucial to ESA’s FutureEO program, Earth Explorers are pioneering research missions that show how new observation techniques lead to new scientific discoveries on our home planet. As science and technology advance, they address issues that have a direct impact on climate change and social issues such as the availability of food, water, energy, resources and public health.
The Earth is a highly dynamic system in which the transport and exchanges of energy and matter are regulated by a multitude of feedback processes and mechanisms. Untangling these complex processes to better understand how the Earth works as a system is a major challenge.
Thanks to Harmony, the picture is bound to become much clearer.
By advancing science, Harmony, in turn, will also help address social issues such as those outlined in the Great Challenges of the World Climate Research Program and a set of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
This exciting new mission will include two identical satellites orbiting Earth in convoy with a Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite. Each Harmony satellite will carry a receive-only synthetic aperture radar and a multiview thermal infrared instrument.
Together with Sentinel-1 observations, Harmony will provide a wide range of unique high-resolution observations of motion occurring on or near the Earth’s surface.
Harmony Lead Investigator, Paco López-Dekker, of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, explained: “Harmony will be used, for example, to quantify the processes that regulate the exchange of momentum, heat and moisture between the surface. of the ocean and the air above.These exchanges affect processes in the lower atmosphere, drive weather patterns, and affect our climate.
“It will also be used to study deformation and flow dynamics at the edges of the rapidly changing ice sheet for a better understanding of sea level rise.
“Additionally, Harmony will be watching the movement of mountain glaciers, which are essential for providing fresh water to hundreds of millions of people, so the importance of understanding how they are changing cannot be overstated.
“And Harmony will be used to measure small changes in the shape of the earth’s surface, such as those related to earthquakes and volcanic activity, and thus help monitor the risk.”
Over the past four years, the Harmony concept has undergone stringent feasibility checks and a pre-development process, culminating in ESA’s Program Board for Earth Observation (PB-EO) acceptance of the proposal. ESA, also based on scientific advice and the recommendation of the Advisory Committee for Earth Observation (ACEO).
René Forsberg, interim chair of ESA’s Earth Observation Advisory Board, said: “ESA Earth Explorer’s pioneering research missions are critical to Europe’s position as a world leader in Earth observation. We are extremely happy to see Harmony join this extraordinary family of missions and are confident that it will bring significant progress in our understanding of how our fragile planet works. ”
Simonetta Cheli, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs, added: “Indeed, Earth Explorers are central to our FutureEO program, a program that leverages new ideas to develop cutting-edge satellite missions and concepts and to test innovative technologies. By cultivating imaginative new ways to use Earth observation, FutureEO allows scientific excellence to thrive to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s society.
“The new technology and observation techniques tested by Earth Explorers are also fundamental for the development of ‘operational’ missions, such as the European Copernicus Sentinel missions, which provide systematic data for environmental services.
“In Harmony’s case, we expect its technology to be important in enhancing the capabilities of the Copernicus Sentinel-1 Next Generation mission.”
With Harmony formally selected as the 10th Earth Explorer, the mission is part of ESA’s Earth Observation FutureEO program proposal to the next Ministerial-level Council, CM22, where funding decisions will be made by member states. FutureEO demonstrates ESA’s leadership in collecting the data scientists need to understand our planet and help solve tomorrow’s challenges.
For Harmony, the next step will then concern the fine-tuning of the mission design and the subsequent build, in view of the launch of the satellites in 2029.