Almost every country in the world has its own national meteorological service. The enormous volume of data from 191 member states and territories of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is gathered in the WMO’s headquarters in Geneva. More than 10,000 manned and automatic weather stations, upwards of 7,000 ships, over a hundred moored and 1,000 drifting buoys, hundreds of radar stations and more than 3,000 planes as well as weather balloons and drilling rigs measure the key parameters on land, on water and in the air all around the world. Satellites in polar and geostationary orbit complete the network. They are needed to keep an eye on the complex weather system as a whole.
Unique Advantage of MTG
Meteorologists are looking forward to MTG, the third generation of the Meteosat weather satellites. The European Meteorological Satellite Organisation EUMETSAT, together with the ESA, has contracted six satellites from Thales Alenia Space: four imagers and two sounders. OHB System in Bremen is responsible for the six satellite platforms and systems integration of the two sounders.
The meteorologists are looking forward to the results of the instruments that are being developed and built by OHB in Oberpfaffenhofen above all because they are new to European satellite meteorology.
The imagers use optical cameras to take images of the weather in considerably higher resolution than previously possible and transmit them to Earth faster. Weather forecasting is becoming far easier and more precise as a result. The two sounders have infra-red cameras and, for the first time, can sample the individual layers of the atmosphere from geostationary orbit. The measurements indicate the air temperature, wind speed and moisture in the different layers. “The meteorologists are looking forward to the results of the instruments that are being developed and built by OHB in Oberpfaffenhofen above all because they are new to European satellite meteorology. They are the highlight of the mission and give Europe a unique meteorological advantage,” explained Dr Rüdiger Schönfeld, MTG project manager at OHB in Bremen. While the first two generations of satellites were spinning satellites that took images of Europe, Africa and the Eastern Atlantic in strips, the MTG satellites, in geostationary orbit, will point constantly at their dedicated regions. They perform full scans every ten minutes and rapid scans every two and a half minutes. Plus the lightning imagers can detect storms. They also identify atmospheric trace substances.
The first MTG imager is slated for launch in 2021, followed by the first MTG sounder at the beginning of 2023. It is hoped that they will improve local forecasts and long-range forecasts in particular. This is of great interest not just for private individuals but entire branches of industry rely on the meteorologists’ forecasts. Indeed, it can be a matter of life and death; for instance, in the case of hurricane warnings. Farmers plan when to sow their crops based on the forecasts, renewable energy companies are interested in wind patterns and solar radiation, airlines and pilots rely on warnings about foggy conditions and wind at altitude. While it is unlikely that weather forecasting will ever be 100% accurate, the ultramodern MTG system will take the practice of weather forecasting a good deal closer to the goal of providing people and businesses with ever more precise and reliable forecasts.
Effects of Space Wheather
Not only is the weather on Earth hugely important, but weather events in space are too. Under ist Space Situational Awareness programme, the ESA has commissioned the definition of mission architectures enabling research into and the utilisation of space effects. As part of the Distributed Space Weather Sensor System D3S, the OHB Luxspace team recently evaluated on the ESA’s behalf which microsatellite constellations and instrumentation could be useful to research near-Earth space weather phenomena. In the context of the Enhanced Space Weather Monitoring System, the purpose of the D3S is to monitor the effects of space weather events, such as heightened solar activity, on the Earth’s environment, while a special spacecraft at Lagrange point L5 observes the sun.
The sun’s activities have huge effects on sensitive satellite electronics and can also interfere with telecommunications and electricity networks on Earth
This is also the starting point of the study that OHB in Bremen is currently working on with the aim of improving the forecasting of space weather phenomena for the ESA. The European Space Agency is planning a joint mission with NASA which envisions the placement of an American satellite at Lagrange point L1 and a European probe at Lagrange point L5. This allows the high-energy particles after solar storms to be viewed from the side, so to speak, and for their speed to be determined more accurately. “The satellite constellation would extend the warning time for space weather effects from a few hours at present to four or five days,” said OHB project manager Marc Scheper. “The sun’s activities have huge effects on sensitive satellite electronics and can also interfere with telecommunications and electricity networks on Earth,” added Scheper. Given a couple of days’ warning, satellite operators would, depending on the scale of the phenomena, at least have a chance to save their satellites by folding the solar panels or switching off the satellites altogether.