Europe to launch satellites for Earth, Einstein

2016-04-22 08:20
The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying three crew to the International Space Station. (Bill Ingalls, Nasa, AP)

The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying three crew to the International Space Station. (Bill Ingalls, Nasa, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - Europe is set to launch two satellites on Friday with very important missions: one will track environmental damage to Earth, while the other will test a mainstay of physics theory.

Setting off on a Russian Soyuz rocket will be Sentinel-1B with its Earth surveillance radar, and Microscope, a French-built orbiter seeking to poke a hole in Einstein's theory of general relativity.

They will be hoisted from Europe's launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, at 21:02 GMT Friday.

Sentinel-1B is the twin of Sentinel-1A, launched two years ago.

The pair are equipped with sophisticated, cloud-penetrating radar with which to monitor Earth's surface by day and night, regardless of the weather conditions.

Their mission is to track climate and environmental change and assist in disaster relief operations.

Sentinel-1A and 1B are part of the €3.8 billion Copernicus project, which will ultimately sport six orbiters in all. It is a joint undertaking of the European Space Agency and the European Commission.

Between them, the twin satellites will be able to take a picture of anywhere on Earth every six days from an altitude of nearly 700 km.

The images can be used to spot icebergs and oil spills, illegal logging or landslides.

They will help scientists monitor changes in forest cover, water and crop health.

And their mapping of areas stricken by flood or earthquake will help emergency teams target the worst-hit areas and locate passable roads, railway lines and bridges.

Free fall

Also on board the Soyuz will be Microscope, designed to test a key component in the theory of general relativity published by Albert Einstein 100 years ago.

The €130m will probe - with 100 times more accuracy than has been possible on Earth -- the so-called "equivalence principle," which says that a feather in a vacuum should fall at the same speed as a lead ball.

The experiment will compare the motion of two different objects "in almost perfect and permanent free fall" aboard the orbiting satellite, according to France's CNES space agency, which financed 90% of the project.

If any difference in motion is observed, the equivalence principle would collapse - "an event that would shake the foundations of physics," it states on its website.

Such a result would suggest that Einstein's relativity theory may be flawed. This would be a great relief to physicists who have long struggled to explain why the theory cannot be reconciled with quantum physics, the other pillar of modern physics.

"We shall then know that Einstein's theory of general relativity is not the whole story of gravity - that there are other forces contributing to it," French physicist Thibault Damour told reporters in Paris last week.

"It will not mean that Einstein's theory is completely wrong - just incomplete," he added.

The Soyuz will also boost into orbit three so-called "CubeSats", tiny orbiters built by European science students.

Read more on:    european space agency  |  space

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.