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Copernicus: Technology allied to Earth observation

Copernicus: Technology allied to Earth observation

Decreasing of air pollution during the pandemic of coronavirus, monitoring of climate changes, and forest fire alerts. These are some of the interesting activities and researches for Brazil and for the world that make usage of the data generated by the Copernicus project. The program of the European Commission counts with the international cooperation of various countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Chile in Latin America.

(Author: Fabiola Bezerra, RNP, Brazil) The Copernicus project was created with the objective to provide services based on satellite data and in-situ (in other words, field-collected) that allow us to observe the status of our planet. For that purpose, the program planned a set of satellite missions, called Sentinel (Sentinela, in Portuguese), coordinated by the European Space Agency (ESA). Each Sentinel mission focuses on one observation aspect of Earth, the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land cover. Their images generate data for a weather forecast, observation of usage and land coverage, of the coastal and ocean areas, and atmosphere monitoring. For example, some data is related to air quality, carbon emissions, and the status of the ozone layer. 

Agreement with Brazil

The Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations, and Communications (MCTIC) and the European Commission firmed, in 2018, the Cooperation Arrangement in the context of the Copernicus Programme. Inside this agreement, the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), the National Institute of Space Researches (Inpe), and the ESA firmed a Technical Cooperation Arrangement to treat access to Sentinel data, data calibration activities and application development.

According to Lubia Vinhas, coordinator of Earth Observation of Inpe, the innovation brought by the Sentinel missions as a whole, is in the terms of use, with a policy that allows the access to the data for scientific collaboration.

“The innovation is the complementarity of the missions of each of the Sentinels and the expectative of the continuity of these missions. The policy of free access to Sentinel data contributes so that new applications can be developed and other improved” affirms Lubia.

The Technical Cooperation Arrangement with the ESA, with validity until 2024, predicts that, in Brazil, the Inpe becomes a regional hub of the Latin America for the Copernicus data, with the right to access to data of the satellites set and non-special instruments that are part of the program, as well as cooperation in the data processing and application development for Copernicus services.

An example of the importance of the Copernicus in a world level was the release of the international system for monitoring carbon and gases that provoke the greenhouse effect.  The data supported the implementation of the Paris Agreement, that establishes actions for the reduction of emission of gases with the greenhouse effect as of 2020.

Brumadinho and Amazônia deforestation

The partnership with our country allowed the usage of satellite images to aid researchers to discover recent cases of natural disasters, as the rupture in January of 2019 of the barrage in Brumadinho (MG), maintained by the enterprise Vale S/A and the advance of the deforestation in Amazônia.

To give support to the inspection of deforestation and forest degradation, the Inpe developed an alert system in case of an alteration of the forest coverage in the region. The data contribute to the feeding of the TerraBrasilis, platform of Inpe for the organization, access, and usage of geographic data and environmental monitoring.

Another case in that Sentinel 1, the first satellite of the set, can help is in the monitoring of oil spill on the Brazilian coast, in partnership with the Navy and with Ibama. According to Inpe, one application in ascension in Brazil is the use of the differential interferometry technique for the detection of land deformation.

In advance, the data of Sentinel 2 are useful for the monitoring of the deforestation in the Brazilian biomes and of Sentinel 3 in the monitoring of aquatic systems, among other oceanographic and atmospheric applications.

According to the researchers of Inpe, the produced data by the Copernicus program are exceptionally large. The coverage of images Sentinel 1, 2, and 3 for the whole extension of Brazil, generates more than 170 Petabytes per year. “That so, a national hub demands a robust infrastructure of network and storage, efficient access interfaces to support the community of users, besides considering its sustainability considering the involved costs” informed Lubia.

With headquarters in São José dos Campos (SP), the Inpe is a research unit supported by RNP and is connected to the national academical network at 10Gb/s. This capacity can increase up to ten times in the next two years.

The release of the Bella project that will construct the first direct connection between Europe and South America and will also benefit the data transference and can intensify the scientific collaboration between these regions.

*Photograph: examples of space resolutions in optical imagens of satellite Sentinel 3, of Copernicus project, for monitoring of a deforestation area.


BELLA II receives funding from the European Union through the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), under agreement number 438-964 with DG-INTPA, signed in December 2022. The implementation period of BELLA II is 48 months.


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