Copernicus: Sentinels of the sky at the service of the scientific community

Copernicus: Sentinels of the sky at the service of the scientific community

The initiative created by the European Union provides constant and open information on the territorial conditions of every corner of the planet. In Chile, the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM) contributes to facilitate access to this data and to generate new developments with the feeds coming from space.

A satellite system that monitors the state of the Earth at an altitude of 700 kilometers passes overhead daily. Day and night they collect data, detailing the climatic conditions of each area, agriculture in remote places or the potential danger of collapse in a mine. All with free access for any user to use and process their data. However, how do these eyes on the world operate and what is Chile’s contribution with the information they constantly provide?

Seven years ago, the European Union (EU) created Copernicus, an Earth observation program that monitors the state of our planet in real time. The initiative has already put into orbit a group of satellites that constantly records and stores data, both from the maritime territory and from land and air. In our country, the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM) of the University of Chile plays a fundamental role in the execution of Copernicus and the use of all this information captured from space.

Since the launch of Sentinel-1A in 2014, the EU has already sent another seven satellites into space and they aim to exceed 20 before 2030. In 2018, the CMM signed an agreement with the Undersecretariat of Telecommunications to develop in Chile the distribution of data from this program. “We created a repository, that is, a place where satellite data can be downloaded to Chile and from there they can be used by any user in the world, since they are open data,” says Florencio Utreras, CMM researcher.

So far, Copernicus has satellites that capture daily information collected from the surface of the planet. These data are captured through high-resolution images and radar signals. The latter, unlike the other satellites, have the particularity that they can emit a wave and receive its rebound. Based on that information, the satellite calculates the distance to the target, for example, with details to the centimeter.

“With this, the radar can analyze everything, regardless of whether or not there are clouds, whether it is day or night,” adds Utreras. With this you can know, if you want, the movement of an object in the sea, the agricultural state of a particular surface or the behavior of the terrain in a mining area, among other uses.

Mathematical modeling from the exosphere

Copernicus was conceived as a boost to the planet’s productivity, both for governmental organizations and for those who can offer a service based on the processing of this data delivered in an open and permanent way. “Having this entire network of free, open sensors, available to everyone, can be a tremendous boost to productive development,” says Jaime Ortega, CMM researcher, who is dedicated to analyzing the information emitted by the satellites to create different models that can be translated into inputs for the country’s development.

Beyond delivering the information collected from the satellites and making it available to the community, the CMM also carries out advanced studies in mathematical modeling with the data delivered by each Copernicus artificial satellite. “We are interested in the applications of the use of satellite images to different problems, in which mathematics presents an additional advantage, that is, we can use or develop advanced mathematics to solve problems that need to use the resources provided by the satellites,” Utreras emphasizes with respect to the use of this information for scientific development.

With Copernicus data, images can be combined with new technologies and techniques such as artificial intelligence or data analysis. This information is also worked with machine learning and other more traditional mathematical technologies, such as statistical analysis of data and images.

“We are doing remote monitoring of aquifers using satellite interferometry. There we can see if they are extracting a lot of water or not, seeing if the surface of the land has gone down or up. In mining, for example, when you want to monitor the walls of tailings dams, you can determine with Copernicus data if they have a deformation, because that can mean a danger of collapse,” explains Ortega.

Undoubtedly, the information that Copernicus provides daily on the surface can be an advantage to understand more about the territory that surrounds us. At the same time, this enormous amount of freely available data is intended to be a support for various scientific and commercial initiatives that can contribute to the development of the country and the world.

FACT: The Copernicus program is coordinated and managed by the European Commission. It is implemented in partnership with the member states of the European Union, the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the EU Agencies and Mercator Ocean.

Download the article (PDF, in Spanish)


By Francisco Corvalán, Fundación Encuentros del Futuro,
for the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM)

Previously published in Beauchef Magazine

Posted on Nov 16, 2021 in News