New European satellite to improve weather forecasts

The satellite will circle the Earth continuously to measure wind and weather patterns

A new satellite created and funded by the European Space Agency has been launched in a bid to offer a more accurate understanding of global wind patterns and better-quality weather forecasts.

Named Aeolus, the satellite spans 16.5 metres across and weighs 1.33 tonnes, and will hope to offer accurate weather forecasts up to two weeks ahead.

It cost €480 million to research and build, and was launched this week from a base in French Guyana.

It will travel around the Earth at a height of 320 km (for comparison, commercial planes fly at a height of around 11 km, while the International Space Station travels at 400 km), and will circle the planet 15 times a day, everyday, for three years.

With multiple weather instruments on board, its main feature is a brand new “teledetection LIDAR (light detection and ranging)” laser named “Aladin” - a first for a weather satellite.

The LIDAR will allow researchers to measure the wind patterns of Earth with heightened accuracy, using ultraviolet laser technology.

The receptors on the satellite are so sensitive that they had to be transported carefully and slowly by boat rather than plane - ahead of construction - to ensure that they did not get damaged in transit.

The project forms part of the Copernicus project to measure the state of the Earth’s health, which was first launched in 1998, the ESA confirmed.

Copernicus includes the use of seven satellites, allowing the measurement of factors such as the level of the oceans, and the extent of global deforestation.

Nicolas Chamussy, director general of Airbus Space System, said: “Aeolus is a world first. The first deployment of a LIDAR instrument in space is a real challenge, but also a good example of what Europeans are capable of when they cooperate.”

Mark Drinkwater, chief supervisor on the mission, explained how the satellite will help improve weather forecasts.

He said: “Weather agencies will be able to integrate this data almost in real time, just like climatologists, to feed their models.”

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