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N° 51–1995: Meteosat remains in good hands

20 November 1995

As one system retires after 18 years, a new era starts on Friday 1st December when EUMETSAT formally takes over the operation of Meteosat satellites from ESA's European Operations Control Centre (ESOC). The hand-over will be marked by a ceremony to be held in the new headquarters of EUMETSAT in Darmstadt. The Director General of ESA, the chairman of EUMETSAT Council, its Director and ESA's Director of Operations, will conduct the hand-over ceremony which will introduce one of the most advanced meteorological satellite ground systems in the world. This new system will enable EUMETSAT to concentrate on meteorological satellite operations while ESOC continues the operation of ESA's scientific and development programme satellites.

With the need for continuity of meteorological satellite operations well into the next century it became apparent that the Meteosat ground segment would need modernisation. It was decided by the EUMETSAT Council in 1990 that, as part of the organisation's evolution as Europe's operational meteorological satellite body, a new ground segment should be developed. The hand-over on 1st December will be the culmination of a European development programme resulting in a satellite and mission control centre in EUMETSAT's Darmstadt headquarters with other support facilities throughout Europe.

The transfer of operations to EUMETSAT has been carefully managed between the two centres over a number of months, the goal being a trouble-free transition in the service for the end-users. The routine operations team was established in parallel with the development and integration of the new ground segment. The new team was given intensive in-house training on the system throughout the summer in readiness for the hand-over. Some of the staff and contractors were previously employed on operating the Meteosat ground segment at ESOC where many techniques of meteorological satellite control and data processing were pioneered.

By the end of November, there will be two Meteosat spacecraft in operation : Meteosat-5 and Meteosat-6. The two previous satellites in the series, Meteosat-3 and Meteosat-4 were removed from geostationary orbit in November, having come to the end of their operational working lives.

Following the introduction of the new ground segment, European taxpayers can be confident that the excellent service provided by ESA will be continued by EUMETSAT, with efficient and cost-effective operation of meteorological satellites assured well into the next century.

Note to Editors
The European Space Agency's (ESA) purpose is to provide for and promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among European States in space research and technology and their space applications with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for space applications systems.

ESA has 14 Member States, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In addition, Canada has an agreement for close cooperation with the Agency and participates in some of its programmes.

ESOC is the satellite control centre of ESA. It is responsible for the operation of all satellites, related ground stations and communications network. To date, ESOC has controlled over 30 ESA satellites and operated 14 satellites for national agencies. Thanks to advanced modern technology, ESOC can control over 15 satellites at the same time.

During the period of the Meteosat Operational Programme, ESOC produced more than 1.1 million images and gathered some 40,000 magnetic tapes worth of data, some dating back to the very first Meteosat satellite launched in 1977. The archive establishes a wealth of meteorological data which will be transferred to the new facility in EUMETSAT. This new system will offer improvements to the user, particularly in the area of on-line access to the meteorological data archive and its catalogue.

From 1st August 1991 until May this year, Meteosat 3 (the last of the ESA-owned Meteosat satellites) was operated, first at 50 West then at 75 West, in support of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which suffered a gap in coverage at the end of its GOES series of geostationary satellites. This support was provided under a tripartite agreement between EUMETSAT, ESA and NOAA. Meteosat-3 was operated by ESOC using a specially built ground station at Wallops Island, Virginia, USA. The service was extremely valuable to the USA during the hurricane season, particularly during hurricane Andrew in August 1992.

EUMETSAT is an inter-governmental organisation created in 1986. It has 17 European Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Federal Republic of Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom). EUMETSAT's primary objective is to establish, maintain and exploit European systems of operational meteorological satellites. Member States contribute financially to new programmes on a scale based on gross national product.

The EUMETSAT ground segment is based on a central facility in Darmstadt with other major component such as the primary ground station based in Fucino, Italy, and its back-up in Weilheim in Southern Germany. The distributed ground segment is linked by both satellite and terrestrial communications facilities. The use of modern technology makes operation of the ground segment and its maintenance very cost-effective. In the longer term, the flexible ground segment architecture will allow more frequent generation of products and regular consultation with the user community will facilitate future improvements to the service.