Science Center Objects

The European Space Agency’s Multispectral Instrument on the Sentinel-2 satellite provides global (from 83 degrees north 56 degrees south latitude) 10-meter resolution, multispectral images every 10 days (2015-present).

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Sentinel-2A tile over a portion of Denmark and Sweden (August 6, 2015)
(Public domain)

The Sentinel fleet of satellites is designed to deliver land remote sensing data that are central to the European Commission’s Copernicus program. The Sentinel-2 mission is the result of close collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Commission, industry, service providers, and data users. The mission has been designed and built by a consortium of around 60 companies led by Airbus Defence and Space, and supported by the CNES French space agency to optimize image quality and by the DLR German Aerospace Centre to improve data recovery using optical communications.

The Sentinel-2 mission consists of two satellites developed to support vegetation, land cover, and environmental monitoring. The Sentinel-2A satellite was launched by ESA on June 23, 2015, and operates in a sun-synchronous orbit with a 10-day repeat cycle. A second identical satellite (Sentinel-2B) was launched March 7, 2017 and is operational with data acquisitions available on EarthExplorer. Together they cover all Earth’s land surfaces, large islands, and inland and coastal waters every five days.

The Sentinel-2 MultiSpectral Instrument (MSI) acquires 13 spectral bands ranging from Visible and Near-Infrared (VNIR) to Shortwave Infrared (SWIR) wavelengths along a 290-km orbital swath.  

The MSI sensor data are complementary to data acquired by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) (Comparison of Sentinel-2 and Landsat). A collaborative effort between ESA and the USGS provides for the public access and redistribution of global acquisitions of ESA’s Sentinel-2 data at no cost through secondary U.S.-based portals, in addition to direct user access from ESA.

Spectral Bands and Resolution

The MSI measures reflected radiance through the atmosphere within 13 spectral bands. The spatial resolution is dependent on the particular spectral band:

  • 4 bands at 10 meter: blue (490 nm), green (560 nm), red (665 nm), and near-infrared (842 nm).
  • 6 bands at 20 meter: 4 narrow bands for vegetation characterization (705 nm, 740 nm, 783 nm, and 865 nm) and 2 larger SWIR bands (1,610 nm and 2,190 nm) for applications such as snow/ice/cloud detection or vegetation moisture stress assessment.
  • 3 bands at 60 meter: mainly for cloud screening and atmospheric corrections (443 nm for aerosols, 945 nm for water vapor, and 1375 nm for cirrus detection).

SENTINEL-2 Radiometric and Spatial Resolutions

Band Number Central Wavelength (nm) Bandwidth (nm) Spatial Resolution (m)
1 443 20 60
2 490 65 10
3 560 35 10
4 665 30 10
5 705 15 20
6 740 15 20
7 783 20 20
8 842 115 10
8a 865 20 20
9 945 20 60
10 1375 30 60
11 1610 90 20
12 2190 180 20
TCI* RGB Composite 10

*Data acquired after December 5, 2016 include a full resolution True-Colour Image as an RGB (red, green, blue) composite image created from bands 4, 3, 2.

The  USGS Spectral Characteristics Viewer helps users determine which spectral bands work best to identify their features of interest for image interpretation. This tool also facilitates the visualization of the Relative Spectral Response (RSR) of various satellite sensors.

Processing Level

The partnership between ESA and the USGS allows for the distribution of Level-1C top-of-atmosphere (TOA) reflectance data. Level-1C processing includes radiometric and geometric corrections along with orthorectification to generate highly accurate geolocated products.

Data Products

The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center repackages Sentinel-2 products on a per tile basis while preserving the Sentinel Standard Archive Format for Europe (SAFE) format specification, which allows for the distribution of a user-friendly file size that is approximately 650 MB. Each Level-1C product is a 100 km x 100 km tile with a UTM/WGS84 (Universal Transverse Mercator/World Geodetic System 1984) projection and datum. The Sentinel-2 tiling grid is referenced to the U.S. Military Grid Reference System (MGRS). Tiles can be fully or partially covered by image data. Partially covered tiles correspond to those at the edge of the swath. The download package from the USGS includes one file for each of the 13 spectral bands plus metadata. Update: Data acquired after December 5, 2016 are distributed from ESA in a single tile basis with a shorter naming convention and include a full-resolution True-Colour Image. Previously offered Sentinel-2 data in the EROS archive will be replaced as data with the True-Colour Image become available from ESA. Users may see temporary scene duplication in search results.

Products are available for download in a zip file, which includes image data, quality indicators, auxiliary data, and metadata. Sentinel image data are in Geographic Markup Language JPEG2000 (GMLJP2) format. GML provides the encoding necessary for georeferencing the image. Sentinel-2 data are intended for scientific use within a Geographic Information System (GIS) or other special application software that supports the GMLJP2 format. ESA offers the Sentinel 2 Toolbox, an open source software product, for the visualization, analysis, and processing of GMLJP2 files/Sentinel-2 data and other high-resolution remote sensing data.

Full Resolution Browse (FRB) images in Georeferenced Tagged Image File Format (GeoTIFF) are also available from the USGS for Sentinel-2 tiles. This product is a simulated natural color composite image created from three selected bands (11, 8A, 4) with a ground resolution of 20 meters.

All Sentinel-2 data products are provided free of charge to all data users, including the general public, and scientific and commercial users under the terms and conditions prescribed by the European Commission’s Copernicus Programme.

Coverage Maps

Coverage Maps indicating the availability of Sentinel-2 products are available for download.

Additional Information

Access Data

EarthExplorerUSGS Global Visualization Viewer (GloVis), or the Sentinel2Look Viewer can be used to search, preview, and download Sentinel-2 data. The collection is located under the Sentinel category in EarthExplorer.

The current USGS Sentinel-2 archive is only a partial representation of all available acquisitions from ESA. Users should expect some delay before ESA’s acquired data becomes available on USGS systems.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Sentinel-2 Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number: /10.5066/F76W992G