ESA's Aeolus wind satellite is being taken from Saint Nazaire in western France to the launch site in French Guiana by ship. Aeolus’ instrument is sensitive to pressure change, so if carried by aircraft and if the aircraft had to descend rapidly and there was a sudden increase in air pressure, the instrument could be damaged. It was designed to allow for the pressure drop during launch ascent so that it could be taken into orbit, but not for a fast descent.
This pioneering mission uses powerful laser technology that probes the lowermost 30 km of our atmosphere to yield vertical profiles of the wind and information on aerosols and clouds. It will not only improve our understanding of how the atmosphere works and contribute to climate change research, but will also help to predict extreme events such as hurricanes. It will also help to better understand and model large-scale wind patterns driving weather such as El Niño. While Aeolus is set to advance science, it will also bring considerable benefits to society by improving weather forecasts.