DG and Michael Freilich

Satellite launch holds extra meaning for outgoing EUMETSAT DG

Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will be DG's final launch before retirement.

DG and Michael Freilich
DG and Michael Freilich

The launch on Saturday of the latest high-precision global sea level monitoring satellite will have a special poignancy for Alain Ratier, Director-General of Europe’s meteorological satellite agency, EUMETSAT.

Last Updated

20, November 2020

This will be the final launch during Ratier’s term as Director-General of EUMETSAT, before his retirement at the end of the year.

The Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite is scheduled for launch at 18:17 CET, Saturday 21 November, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.


Ratier began his career as an oceanographer at Météo-France in 1983, and joined CNES, the French Space Agency, in 1987, as the Programme Scientist for Topex-Poseidon, the first European-US joint high-precision altimetry mission.

At CNES, and then at EUMETSAT, he was involved in the full series of high- precision ocean altimetry missions run in cooperation between Europe and the United States, namely Topex-Poseidon, Jason, Jason-2, Jason-3 and now the Copernicus Sentinel-6 mission.

As Associate Director for Earth Observation Programmes at CNES, Ratier played a decisive role in the approval of the Jason programme, on 4 July 1996, four days after he joined EUMETSAT as Director of Programme Development and Deputy Director-General.

He then championed EUMETSAT’s involvement in Jason-2, even serving as the EUMETSAT Jason-2 Project Manager until EUMETSAT could recruit a manager, after approval was received for the programme.

Ratier became EUMETSAT’s fourth Director-General in August 2011, and obtained approval in 2014 for the organisation’s optional programme establishing its role in the Jason-Continuity of Service/Sentinel-6 collaborative programme.

“You could say it is fitting that the launch of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich – the first of a pair of fully operational Copernicus satellites and the most accurate ocean altimetry mission so far – will be my last,” Ratier said.

“It is the more special for me as the satellite bears the name of Michael Freilich, someone I had the rare privilege to work with since the early nineties, and who sadly passed away on 5 August.

“As the Director of Earth Sciences at NASA, he was a driving force behind this mission. I will never forget signing the Jason-CS/Sentinel-6 memorandum of understanding with him on 16 December 2016, in Washington.

“It was probably the last MOU that NASA signed under the Obama administration.”

Three days after Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is launched and safely flying in its designated orbit, EUMETSAT will take over control of the spacecraft from its headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, and process the first data as part of the satellite and system commissioning.

Copernicus Sentinel-6 is a collaborative mission involving the European Commission, the European Space Agency (ESA), EUMETSAT, NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from CNES.