An unmanned rocket blasted off from the European Space Agency (ESA) base in French Guiana on 22 June to put a sophisticated Earth-watching satellite into orbit.

Flying for the fifth time, the four-stage Vega rocket lifted off at 9.52pm. It carried Europes Sentinel-2A satellite, the newest member of the Copernicus Earth-observation project.

From its orbit 488 miles above Earth, Sentinel-2A is designed to take high-resolution colour and infrared images for a wide array of environmental initiatives, including crop forecasting and monitoring natural disasters.

The first satellite of Europes planned seven-member network, Sentinal-1A, launched in April 2014, has radars that can monitor sea ice, oil spills and land use, even when skies are cloudy. Sentinel-2A will operate in tandem with a third satellite, to be launched in late 2016.

Sentinel-2A is designed to capture a 180-mile stretch of Earth and revisit the same point on the planet every 10 days, providing more up-to-date images and at higher resolution than have been available previously.

The images will be free-to-use for a wide variety of programmes, including locating sites for refugee camps in humanitarian crises, monitoring the destruction or growth of forests and estimating fertiliser and water needs for efficient crop production.

Volker Liebig, the director of ESAs Earth Observation program, said ESA was actively working with international programs that seek to forecast harvests so the United Nations World Food Program can anticipate need and avoid shortages, which can cause spikes in food prices.