The Copernicus Sentinel-6 mission: Enhanced continuity of satellite sea level measurements from space

Craig J. Donlon, Robert Cullen, Luisella Giulicchi, Pierrik Vuilleumier, C. Richard Francis, Meike Kuschnerus, William Simpson, Abderrazak Bouridah, Mauro Caleno, More Authors

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Given the considerable range of applications within the European Union Copernicus system, sustained satellite altimetry missions are required to address operational, science and societal needs. This article describes the Copernicus Sentinel-6 mission that is designed to provide precision sea level, sea surface height, significant wave height, inland water heights and other products tailored to operational services in the ocean, climate, atmospheric and land Copernicus Services. Sentinel-6 provides enhanced continuity to the very stable time series of mean sea level measurements and ocean sea state started in 1992 by the TOPEX/Poseidon mission and follow-on Jason-1, Jason-2 and Jason-3 satellite missions. The mission is implemented through a unique international partnership with contributions from NASA, NOAA, ESA, EUMETSAT, and the European Union (EU). It includes two satellites that will fly sequentially (separated in time by 5 years). The first satellite, named Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base, USA on 21st November 2020. The satellite and payload elements are explained including required performance and their operation. The main payload is the Poseidon-4 dual frequency (C/Ku-band) nadir-pointing radar altimeter that uses an innovative interleaved mode. This enables radar data processing on two parallel chains the first provides synthetic aperture radar (SAR) processing in Ku-band to improve the received altimeter echoes through better along-track sampling and reduced measurement noise; the second provides a Low Resolution Mode that is fully backward-compatible with the historical reference altimetry measurements, allowing a complete inter-calibration between the state-of-the-art data and the historical record. A three-channel Advanced Microwave Radiometer for Climate (AMR–C) provides measurements of atmospheric water vapour to mitigate degradation of the radar altimeter measurements. The main data products are explained and preliminary in-orbit Poseidon-4 altimeter data performance data are presented that demonstrate the altimeter to be performing within expectations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112395
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Altimetry
  • Copernicus
  • Ocean topography
  • Satellite
  • Sea level
  • Sea state
  • Sentinel-6

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