Second polar satellite for Europe’s weather watch
11 September 2012
Regular watchers of TV weather forecasts will be familiar with views of Europe taken by a Meteosat spacecraft above the equator. Less well known are the MetOp satellites, which fly from pole to pole at much lower altitudes. The first in this series, known as MetOp-A, is now 6 years old, so its replacement is being prepared for launch.
If all goes according to plan, MetOp-B will lift off on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan on 17 September. The satellite will be delivered to an 817 km high, Sun-synchronous orbit. This means that Metop-B will repeatedly pass over the same area at the same local time, so that the Sun will always be at a similar height above the horizon.
Metop-B is the second of three identical, polar-orbiting satellites. After it is checked out in orbit, MetOp-B will operate with MetOp-A for a while, guaranteeing continuous delivery of high-quality data for weather forecasting and climate monitoring. MetOp-C will be the third and final satellite in the series. Its launch is expected in 2016.
The MetOp satellites carry 11 instruments that collect data on the planet’s weather and climate. They look at atmospheric temperature, humidity, wind speed, and ozone. The also trace gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. MetOp completes its global coverage from all its instruments within five days.
MetOp carries five new European instruments, including one that sends out radar pulses to measure wind speed over the oceans. ESA leads the project on behalf of EUMETSAT, the European weather organisation. The spacecraft are built by a European industrial group led by Astrium.