Launches: ESA names 10th Earth Explorer mission
On September 22, 2022, the European Space Agency announced Harmony as its 10th Earth Explorer mission. Harmony is part of the FutureEO program. This program is a series of missions using the latest sensing technology to make precise measurements of the planet’s ever-changing topography.
According to ESA, the mission will provide data needed to respond to the greatest crises now facing humanity. The announcement said:
Pivotal to ESA’s FutureEO program, Earth Explorers are pioneering research missions that show how novel observing techniques lead to new scientific findings about our home planet. Advancing science and technology, they address questions that have a direct bearing on climate change and societal issues such as the availability of food, water, energy, resources and public health.
Harmony will actually be a satellite constellation. ESA said:
This exciting new mission will comprise 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.
The purpose of the mission is to monitor movement on the Earth’s surface to make a high-resolution record of its subtle ongoing changes. Harmony’s lead investigator Paco López-Dekker explained:
Harmony will, for example, be used to quantify the processes that govern the exchange of momentum, heat and moisture between the ocean surface and the air above. These exchanges influence 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 rapidly changing ice-sheet edges for a better understanding of sea-level rise.
Harmony will also track the world’s critical fresh water supplies. López-Dekker said:
In addition, Harmony will observe the motion of mountain glaciers, which are essential in providing freshwater 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 shifts in the shape of the land surface such as those related to earthquakes and volcanic activity, and therefore contribute to risk monitoring.
Bottom line: The latest ESA FutureEO mission, Harmony, is the 10th mission in the Earth Explorer program. It will monitor small but critical changes to Earth’s shape.