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  • Satellite Evolution

First pair of second-generation weather satellites, built by Airbus, enter their test phase

MetOp-SG-A and B are fully integrated and starting their test campaigns - Copyright Airbus

The Airbus built satellite twins, MetOp-SG A and B will provide a panoply of new meteorological data that will substantially improve numerical weather prediction - the backbone of our daily weather forecasts - at regional and global levels. The multiple instruments on-board will also provide key observations for climate monitoring, atmospheric chemistry and other services such as air pollution, hydrology, land use, and oceanography that will help prevent climate change.

MetOp-SG comprises two satellite series, with three units in each series. Flying in a polar orbit, they are able to observe the entire planet in fine detail providing vital information on storms, volcanoes, landslides, wildfires, and other natural events on Earth. The A series carries optical and atmospheric instruments, essential to identify specific types of clouds from space or determine storm intensity. The B series hosts microwave instruments able to measure through cloud cover to detect precipitation, temperature in different layers of the atmosphere, and surface characteristics like ocean surface winds.

The integration of the first MetOp-SG-A, built at Airbus in Toulouse (France), was finalised last October with the installation of the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer – New Generation (IASI-NG), the most complex of the satellite’s instruments. Four times more precise than its predecessor. IASI-NG will determine temperature and water vapour profiles in the atmosphere, record ocean surface and land temperatures and monitor a wide range of chemical compounds and other key variables for climate research, including greenhouse gases, desert dust and cloud cover. IASI-NG will be a powerful tool for weather forecasting and to monitor the climate’s health at any moment in time to secure life and property on Earth. The spacecraft has completed its mechanical tests proving the satellite can withstand the harsh vibrations of launch and the solar panels have been deployed. Next up, the thermal vacuum test in space-like conditions to make sure the spacecraft can operate in space.

Integration of MetOp-SG-B was completed last week at Airbus in Friedrichshafen (Germany) with the installation of the advanced scatterometer, and the spacecraft is about to undergo its environmental test campaign. This scatterometer provides double the resolution than the previous, and will be used to monitor ocean winds and continental ice sheets, and to check land-surface soil moisture – a key driver of water and heat fluxes between the ground and the atmosphere. Scatterometers have been used to study unusual weather phenomena such as El Niño, the long-term effects of deforestation and changes in sea-ice masses around the poles. All of which play a central role in monitoring climate change.