UK space museum marks Envisat’s first year

The waters around Kuril Islands, NE of Japan
12 March 2003

The UK National Space Centre is commemorating Envisat and its first year in space in a special exhibition as part of Britain's National Science Week.

Sponsored by the British National Space Centre (BNSC) together with the UK’s National Environment Research Council (NERC), the exhibition marks the first anniversary of the launch of ESA’s Envisat Earth observation satellite with a spectacular collection of Earth images, interactive displays, models and other material contributed by the European Space Agency and its collaborators in the Envisat programme.

UK Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, of the Department of Trade and Industry, hailed Envisat’s success in its inaugural year, recording important environmental data that will help scientists study the behaviour of the planet’s climate and ecosystem.

"The many scientific instruments aboard Envisat have already provided a wealth of environmental data to scientists studying our planet," the UK official said in a statement. "It is hoped that over the next five years this and additional data will give us a clear picture of the problem of global warming."

Envisat: The First Year

National Space Centre

The exhibit, entitled “Envisat: The First Year,” opened on 5 March in the Centre’s Space Now gallery for a two-week run. It featured an interactive multi-media display of Envisat’s environmental mission to explore different aspects of Earth’s land, sea atmosphere and ice. In addition, more than 15 large-sized images from various satellite sensors showed some of the scientific results captured in the first year of Envisat’s operations, including:

  • images from Envisat’s Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR) displaying the patterns of sea surface temperatures near the Kuril Islands, northeast of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, and those in the waters around the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean

  • sea ice off the coast of Norway and a pair of images acquired prior to and after the forest fires in August 2002 in Kazakhstan by the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer Instrument (MERIS)

  • an image from the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) sensor showing last summer’s floods along the Elbe River

At a media briefing to open the Envisat exhibit, Dr. Eva Oriol-Pibernat, ESA's Earth observation representative, reported the current status of Envisat. A December meeting of the validation teams working to verify the accuracy of the Envisat sensors reported that all instruments were working according to plan, the ESA official said. "All instruments are completely activated and operating," she noted. "We are seeing excellent and stable performances."

Envisat data 'for a wide range of studies'

Kazakhstan, courtesy of MERIS

Several scientists involved in the Envisat programme spoke about their experience with the initial scientific results from the satellite’s first year of operations. Prof Alan O’Neil, Department of Meteorology at the UK’s University of Reading, pointed to data received last year from Envisat’s GOMOS instrument and follow-on analysis of ozone concentrations in the Antarctic atmosphere that showed an unprecedented early break-up of the region’s ozone hole.

"We are getting a fantastic amount of data for a wide range of studies," he said.

Water temperatures around the Balearic Islands

Prof David Llewellyn-Jones, with the Space Science Centre at the University of Leicester, described the AATSR instrument that captures both visible and thermal images from two different viewing angles. The AATSR is a key sensor for measuring sea surface temperatures, a key indicator of El Niño and other meteorological phenomena.

Llewellyn-Jones also provided an explanation of the Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS) to measure trace atmospheric gases. By looking at the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, the researcher said, the instrument has detected polar stratospheric clouds, "very difficult to detect otherwise."

The museum's Envisat display also included a 1:10 scale model of Envisat, and a full-sized engineering model of the AATSR instrument. When the recently opened space museum was in the planning phase, Prof. Llewellyn-Jones recounted, an effort was made to include as a permanent display a full-sized mock-up of the satellite, which is the size of a London double-decker bus. As large as the display hall is (see photo), holding several full-sized rockets, "Envisat was just too big," he quipped.

An effort is currently underway to find sponsorships for the AATSR engineering model to be displayed permanently in the museum, the University of Leicester professor added.

A UK sunny day

The National Science Centre in Leicester, UK, was officially opened in July. Sponsored by the UK’s Millennium Commission, the University of Leicester and other partners, the museum houses a variety of space-related exhibits, including a walk-in model of the European Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station, educational displays on the planets in the Solar System, space suits, and other hardware used in space.

Envisat recently marked its first year in orbit. Launched 28 February 2002 from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana, it is the largest and most capable Earth observation satellite ever built. Its suite of 10 sensors is designed to provide a comprehensive look of the Earth’s oceans, land, atmosphere and ice caps.

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