Biomass

Selected as ESA’s seventh Earth Explorer in May 2013, the Biomass mission will provide crucial information about the state of our forests and how they are changing. The data will be used to further our knowledge of the role forests play in the carbon cycle.

This latest mission follows on from GOCE, SMOS, CryoSat and Swarm, which are in orbit delivering key data, as well as ADM-Aeolus and EarthCARE, which are in various stages of development.

New technology in space
ESA's forest mission is being designed to provide, for the first time from space, P-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) measurements to determine the amount of biomass and carbon stored in forests.

Exploiting the unique sensitivity of P-band SAR together with advanced retrieval methods, maps of forest biomass and forest height at a resolution of 200 m will be generated. In addition, the mission will have an experimental ‘tomographic’ phase to provide 3D views of forests.

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Forest carbonAccess the image

Understanding the carbon cycle
Quantifying the global carbon cycle is essential to understanding many of the dramatic changes taking place in the Earth system, particularly those resulting from the burning of fossil fuel and land-use change.
Forests absorb, store and release large amounts of carbon, therefore, they are a key component of the carbon cycle. Despite this crucial role, forest biomass is poorly quantified in most parts of the world. Responding to this challenge, the Biomass mission sets out to provide measurements of forest biomass and forest height.

This urgently-needed data will shed new light on the state of our forests and how they are changing, and, in turn, advance our knowledge of the global carbon cycle. Reliable knowledge of forest biomass also underpins the implementation of the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, REDD+, initiative – an international effort to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and land degradation in developing countries.

Beyond forest biomass
Observations from this new mission will also lead to better insight into rates of habitat loss and, hence, the impact this may be having on biodiversity in the forest environment. In addition, the Biomass mission will offer the opportunity to map subsurface geology in deserts and map the topography of forest floors.

Facts and figures

Launch envisaged around 2020 (compatible with Vega, Antares and PSLV launchers
Orbit altitude of ~660 km; Sun-synchronous
Mission life five years (including a tomographic phase of at least three months)
Satellite three-axes stabilised platform 10 m high, 12 m wide and 20 m long (including large reflector)
Mass 1170 kg (including 67 kg fuel)
Instrument synthetic aperture radar operating at P-band (435 MHz); fully polarimetric
Power 1.5 kW deployable solar array with 6.8 m2 triple junction GaAs cells; 144 Ah Li-ion battery
Mission control ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, DE
Communication links ESA’s  ground station in Kiruna, SE, via X-band downlink (310/520* Mbit/s) for science data; via S-band uplink (64 kbit/s) and downlink (128 kbit/s) for tracking, telemetry and command
Data processing at ESA’s Centre for Earth Observation (ESRIN) in Frascati, IT
Project and commissioning managed at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, NL

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