Europe has its own weather satellites, called Meteosat. The first Meteosat was launched by ESA into geostationary orbit, 36 000 km above the Gulf of Guinea, on 23 November 1977.
Since then, eight more Meteosats have been launched. The latest of these (Meteosat-9) began full operation on 29 January 2004. Another two are planned in the next few years, followed by a Third Generation of satellites.
The most recent Meteosats (called 'Second Generation') have many design improvements over the earlier models. One advantage is that it can send back sharper pictures more frequently.
Meteosat-9 has one instrument that can study cloud, land, ocean, snow and ice during the day or night. Another instrument is dedicated to climate studies. The data collected helps weather forecasters to recognise and predict dangerous weather. This includes dense fog, thunderstorms and the sudden growth of intense storms with gale force winds and lashing rain. Long range forecasts are also improved.
Until October 2006, no European weather satellites had been placed in polar orbits. This changed with the launch of a satellite called MetOp-A. Two more MetOps are planned in 2012 and 2016.
Circling the Earth every 101 minutes, the MetOp spacecraft studies almost the entire planet twice a day. Thanks to its eleven instruments, it sends back very detailed and accurate data on clouds, temperature, humidity, ozone, ocean surface winds and other useful meteorological information.