Illustration of Sentinel-1 satellite over italy

How Copernicus satellites improve safety of the Italian infrastructures

To enhance road safety in Italy, the road agency leverages Copernicus satellites data to monitor ground movements for timely hazard detection.

In Italy, the development and construction of road infrastructure are strongly affected by unexpected ground movements, including landslides, subsidences, and earthquakes. To improve the safety of road infrastructure nationwide, the Italian road agency is using satellites service based on Copernicus (the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme) data.

Thanks to this service, the agency can detect and monitor unstable terrain more precisely and constantly, enabling in-depth analysis of ground conditions.

Rethicus use data from satellites to help build roads in Italy
Rethicus use data from satellites to help build roads in Italy. Credits: Rheticus


The challenges to building infrastructure in Italy

Building infrastructure in Italy can be a difficult challenge due to the different soil properties throughout the country. Italian soil is subject to several natural factors that compromise its stability. These events can cause damage to road and motorway infrastructure, leading to high maintenance and repair costs and safety risks for drivers.

In some regions, such as the coastal area of southern Italy, the soil is mainly composed of sand and clay, which can cause stability and foundation problems. In other areas, such as mountainous regions in the north, landslides, and mudslides are common issues, often requiring costly consolidation works.

Moreover, Italy is located on several seismic faults, making the risk of earthquakes a constant concern for the design and construction of road and motorway infrastructure.

Landslide provokes bridge collapse near Savona in Italy
Landslide provokes bridge collapse near Savona, in Italy. Credits: Vigili del Fuoco


The solution to solve this problem is the use of satellites

Planetek, the Italian company based in Bari, Italy, has created a ground motion monitoring service called Rheticus, which uses data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission to provide regularly updated maps at a national level.

Thanks to Sentinel-1’s Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instrument, it is possible to generate large-scale maps that show even the smallest millimeter-scale ground movements, enabling accurate detection of potential ground instability risks.

In this way, planners and infrastructure builders can use these maps to improve the design of roads, railways, and other types of facilities. Planetek’s monitoring service is an example of how technology can be used to enhance infrastructure safety and prevent natural disasters.

Rheticus Safeway operates at three main points:

  • Helps engineering offices plan and design transport facilities, identify the best locations for building new roads and railways, and avoid unstable areas affected by landslides or subsidence.
  • Provides support to engineering companies during construction, highlighting the effects that construction activities could have on the surrounding terrain, inducing landslides.
  • Thanks to regularly updated data and BI analysis capabilities, it helps transport network management and maintenance companies keep pace with the demands of operating, maintaining, and rehabilitating road infrastructure over time. In addition, the output of the Rheticus Safeway service can be directly integrated into the infrastructure managers’ decision support system (DSS) through dedicated APIs.
Rheticus through reprocessed data finds areas at risk of disruption
Reprocessed satellite data helps find disruptions. Credits: Rheticus


Sentinel Missions and the European Union’s Copernicus Program

Europe’s Copernicus programme is developing six families of Sentinel satellite missions specifically designed for the operational needs of the Copernicus program. The Sentinels provide high-resolution radar and optical images of our planet.

The main satellites used are as follows:

  • Sentinel-1 is a polar-orbiting radar mission, capable of operating day and night in all weather conditions, for land and sea observation services. Sentinel-1A was launched on 3 April 2014 and Sentinel-1B on 25 April 2016. Sentinel-1B experienced antenna problems and its mission ended early.
  • Sentinel-2 is a multi-spectral optical mission in polar orbit for high-resolution land monitoring. It provides images of plant cover, soil, and water, as well as information in case of emergencies. Sentinel-2A was launched on 23 June 2015 and Sentinel-2B on 7 March 2017.

However, the Copernicus constellation also currently has Sentinel-3A/B, Sentinel-5/5-P, and Sentinel-6A in orbit. While Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-6B are scheduled to be launched in the next few years, the constellation is set to expand in the coming years with more satellites in this series.

Satellites have an essential role in collecting useful and free data for a wide range of applications. Companies such as Planetek are helping to re-process this data, creating innovative tools and services that enable users to obtain highly accurate and useful information for making important decisions.

The use of Sentinel-1 data, for example, is helping planners and infrastructure builders to identify ground instability risks and design highways more resilient to future ground movements.

In addition, Sentinel-1’s easy access to data is opening the door to many other innovative applications in various sectors, from agriculture to environmental protection, from water management to emergencies, and more.

In this way, satellites are contributing to creating a safer and more sustainable world, providing accurate and up-to-date data to help people make informed decisions and create innovative solutions that can improve the lives of everyone on Earth.

Sentinel missions and the European Union’s Copernicus program
Illustration of the operation of the Sentinel-1 satellite. Credits: ESA


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Federico Airoldi

Federico Airoldi

Coder, developer and content creator. I am dedicated to spreading my love of space exploration and inspiring others to join me in the pursuit of new frontiers. Page owner of Airo_spaceflight.

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