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Space News
SMIs 17th Annual Global MilSatCom 3-5 November 2015, London, UK
2012-09-17 10:51:34

Astrium-built Metop-B successfully placed in orbit

Baikonur, 17 September 2012 – Today, at 22:28 hours local time (17:28 hours BST or 16:28 UTC), a Soyuz rocket successfully launched the Astrium-built Metop-B satellite into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. A little less than one hour and nine minutes after the launch, the upper stage of the launch vehicle successfully released the satellite into its designated orbit at an altitude of approximately 800 kilometres.

With Metop-B, Europe now has a replacement low-altitude, polar orbiting weather satellite for the Metop-A. The data it collects will enable meteorologists to continue accurate and reliable medium- and short range weather forecasts. The new satellite will also deliver data of great value to climate researchers. Metop-B is designed to have an operational life of five years.

Metop-B is the second in a series of three satellites designed and built by Astrium, Europe’s leading space company, on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), based in Darmstadt. The first of these satellites, Metop-A, has been in service since October 2006 and makes a major contribution to the accuracy of weather forecasts. When compared to all other observations (in situ, airborne and space-based) currently recorded in real time by Numerical weather prediction (NWP) models, Metop-A data make the largest contribution to the accuracy of 24-hour NWP forecasts, at around 25%. When considering only satellite observations, the Metop-A data contribution to the accuracy of 24-hour NWP forecasts is around 40%. The third satellite, Metop-C, is scheduled for launch in 2017-2018.

Several of the instruments carried by Metop-B were procured by Astrium and largely built at its sites in the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. They include the Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT), a radar system that measures wind speed and direction above the surface of the oceans, the Microwave Humidity Sounder (MHS), which measures atmospheric humidity, the Global Navigation Satellite System Receiver for Atmospheric Sounding (GRAS), a GPS receiver that supplies atmospheric sounding data.

Unlike the Meteosat series of European weather satellites, which operate in a geostationary orbit above the equator at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres, the Metop satellites circle the Earth in a polar orbit at the much lower altitude of 817 kilometres. It takes about 100 minutes for the Metop satellites to complete one orbit. Metop and Meteosat satellites are equally indispensable and complementary: while Meteosat delivers very frequent imagery to support very short range forecasting, Metop delivers the global observations of many more parameters that are required by NWP models (including the polar regions) used for longer range forecasts up to 10 days.

METOP’s main mission is to capture major atmospheric characteristics, such as temperature, and humidity. Other aspects of the atmosphere monitored by Metop-B include trace gases, cloud height and coverage, wind speed and direction above the surface of the oceans, and ozone levels. Moreover, the Metop satellites are designed to act as communication nodes, as they are also equipped to collect data from land or sea-based weather stations and to retransmit distress signals to search and rescue terminals on the ground.

As partners of Metop-B, the French Space Agency (CNES) and NOAA provide some instruments carried on the satellites. CNES supplies the IASI instrument for highly precise measuring of temperature, humidity, ozone and other trace gases in the atmosphere as well as Sea Surface Temperature and cloud properties.

The EUMETSAT Polar System, which includes the three Metop satellites, represents the European contribution to a cooperative venture with NOAA providing data to monitor climate and improve weather forecasting. Each Metop satellite carries a set of 'heritage' instruments provided by the United States and a new generation of European instruments that offer improved remote sensing capabilities to both meteorologists and climatologists. In turn, the US NOAA satellites fly European instruments, including the Astrium built Microwave Humidity Sounder. Metop flies in a polar orbit corresponding to local 'morning' while the US is responsible for 'afternoon' coverage.

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