Envisat goes into orbit
Europe's most powerful and sophisticated earth observation satellite has successfully lifted off from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.
Scientists from the 14 countries, including Switzerland, which have cooperated on the project, breathed a collective sigh of relief after the long-delayed launch finally went ahead without a hitch.
The €2.3 billion (SFr3.4 billion) spacecraft carries ten scientific instruments, which will monitor land, oceans, atmosphere and ice caps for signs of pollution and climate change.
"With its panoply of instruments, Envisat should give us a very good picture over a long time frame of the development of the forests, the state of the plankton which are responsible for carbon dioxide uptake in the oceans, and also the different trace gases in the atmosphere which contribute to the global warming effect," said Michael Rast, a scientist at the European Space Agency.
Map of the world
As Envisat circles the globe 14 times a day, information will be relayed to ground stations worldwide for analysis.
The scientists admit it is a risk packing so much technology into one satellite, but say it is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the environment and climatic processes.
Switzerland has contributed about SFr127 million towards the cost of constructing the satellite. Some 86 Swiss firms from 17 cantons have supplied parts and components.
Envisat was launched by an Ariane-5 rocket. It was scheduled to lift off last October but a malfunction in the launcher caused a six-month delay.
by Vincent Landon
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