This UK-Built Satellite Is Going To Significantly Improve Weather Forecasts

The wind is observed orthogonal to the satellite ground-track pointing 35º off-nadir away from the Sun. Pic ESA

Image Aeolus will use lasers to measure the wind. Pic ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched the Aeolus satellite into a polar orbit, carrying on board an ultraviolet laser that will provide far more accurate and detailed monitoring of wind speeds than is now possible. In addition, its data will be used in air-quality models to improve forecasts of dust and other airborne particles that affect public health. The Aeolus satellite is now in low orbit and will have a life span of approximately three years.

Constructed by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, Aeolus satellite will boast a 3.4-Kilowatt laser which will be beamed towards the atmosphere to measure wind speeds and patterns from an altitude of about 200 kilometers above the Earth.

The latest and the fifth satellite from the stable of ESA's Earth Explorer was placed into polar orbit on a Vega rocket from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on Thursday at 2.50 am IST.

James Cotton, satellite winds scientist, at the Met Office, said: "The Aeolus mission aims to improve the global coverage of wind profile observations, including areas where in situ wind measurements are now lacking, such as over the oceans, in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere". It will provide insight into how the wind influences the exchange of heat and moisture between Earth's surface and the atmosphere - important aspects for understanding climate change.

Built by the European concern Airbus, the Aeolus satellite weighs 1.35 tonnes and is designed for long-range wind-mapping, it will probe the atmosphere with pioneering ultraviolet laser pulses.

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Aeolus launched atop a European Space Agency (ESA) Vega rocket at 10:20pm BST (5:20pm ET) on Wednesday following nearly a decade of delays to the project.

Scientists will use this data to predict the weather in the hopes of revolutionising weather forecasting methods. Aeolus will measure winds around the globe from the surface of the Earth up into the stratosphere, to an altitude of 19 miles.

ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, added, "Aeolus carries the first instrument of its kind and uses a completely new approach to measuring the wind from space".

'Filling a gap' Two years ago, Aladin's project manager Frederic Fabre told optics.org that such is the power of the instrument that it will provide more wind data than all current ground-based systems put together.

"The Aeolus mission is a great example of the potential real-world impacts that space can have on Earth. Space is a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy and it is work like this that shows how vital our role in the European Space Agency is in bringing real benefits to United Kingdom companies". "We look forward to it living up to expectations".

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