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Europe’s Next Weather Satellite Passes Final Checks

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The Metop-B weather satellite has now passed its final checks in the clean room at Astrium, Toulouse, and will soon be transported to the Baikonur cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, in readiness for a planned launch in May 2012.

Metop-B is the second of three identical Metop satellites which, together with dedicated ground infrastructure, form the EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS). Each of the three satellites has a nominal lifetime of five years, with a 6 month overlap, and their purpose is to provide continuous, long-term data sets for use in operational meteorology, and climate and environmental monitoring.

When Metop-B is launched this year, it will join its predecessor Metop-A – launched in 2006 – in a “mid morning” polar orbit, 850 km above the Earth. Both satellites will be operated simultaneously by EUMETSAT, until the end of Metop-A’s lifetime.

The third of the series, Metop-C, is planned for launch in 2017, at the end of the nominal lifetime of Metop-B.

Following on from Metop-A

Alain Ratier, Director-General of EUMETSAT, said, “The first of the Metop series, Metop-A, has already exceeded all our expectations, and the data its instruments provide have made a major contribution to improving Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models, the basis for today’s weather forecasts.

By helping to improve the weather forecasts and severe weather warnings delivered by the national weather services across Europe, Metop-A helps save lives and limit damage to property. It also delivers high benefits for transport, agriculture, energy, tourism, climate policy and environmental protection.”

The Metop satellites are built in Europe, by a consortium led by EADS Astrium, within the framework of a successful partnership between EUMETSAT and the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA is responsible for the development of the space segment, while EUMETSAT is responsible for the development of the overall system, the ground segment and operating the satellites over the mission’s duration. The US NOAA and the French Space Agency are also partners, providing some of the key instruments of the Metop payload.

Metop Instruments

Each satellite carries eight instruments capable of taking measurements of the atmosphere, including temperature and humidity profiles, cloud properties, greenhouse and trace gases such as ozone, methane and carbon monoxide, and even sulphur dioxide emitted from volcanoes. These instruments also observe the ocean and continental surfaces, providing measurements of wind at the ocean surface, ice, snow and soil moisture.

Florence Rabier, Deputy-Head of the Numerical Weather Prediction group (GMAP) of the CNRM-GAME (a joint research unit of Météo-France and CNRS) said, ” It is very impressive how Metop-A observations are now used by meteorologists, atmospheric scientists and climatologists in Europe, and all over the world. The various instruments on board the satellite provide a wealth of invaluable data.”

The vital role of Metop-A data in weather forecasting is best illustrated by a recent UK Met Office estimate of the impact of various data sources (in situ, airborne and space-based) on NWP models, in which Metop-A accounts for the highest level of contribution at over 24%.

When this analysis was focused on the contribution of data from individual satellites to NWP models, Metop-A’s contribution is nearly 40%. This is more than double the contribution of other individual weather satellites, and highlights the importance of investment in new, more technologically advanced satellites such as Metop, and NASA’s recently launched SUOMI NPP.

Metop-B – part of the Initial Joint Polar System

After its launch in 2012, Metop-B will be the second European contribution to the Initial Joint Polar System (IJPS) shared by Europe and the USA. This is cooperation between EUMETSAT and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where Metop satellites from Europe, and NOAA satellites from USA, fly in complementary polar orbits, designed to ensure global data coverage, and instruments are exchanged between partners.

Alain Ratier said, “The benefits of Metop for users in terms of improved weather forecasting, flood and storm warnings are high and these benefits are amplified by our collaboration with NOAA.”

EPS-SG – beyond 2020

The series of consecutive Metop satellites are intended to operate until 2020. They will then be succeeded by the next generation system of European polar-orbiting satellites: EUMETSAT Polar System – Second Generation (EPS-SG).

Alain Ratier said’ “It is absolutely vital that we continue to collect and improve satellite observations from the polar orbit beyond 2020, to further improve forecasts and thus increase benefits to society. Our objective, with ESA, is to secure the availability of the first satellite of the EPS-SG programme by the end of 2020.”

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