Arctic Weather Satellite: How Will ESA Monitor Climate Change from Space?

9th Jul 2024
Arctic Weather Satellite: How Will ESA Monitor Climate Change from Space?

The European Space Agency (ESA), in cooperation with international partners, is launching a new mission to monitor the Arctic climate. The Arctic Weather Satellite (AWS) will be the first of six scientific spacecraft of the future orbital constellation for global monitoring and protecting our planet. 

Arctic Weather Satellite: launch date and mission details

The Arctic Weather Satellite mission will provide continuous temperature and humidity data from all over the globe. The upcoming launch is the first step towards a constellation of small polar-orbiting satellites called EPS-Sterna, each carrying a single instrument: a 19-channel cross-track microwave radiometer. ESA plans to build the constellation for Eumetsat if the prototype, the Arctic Weather Satellite, would perform well.

It is a collaborative effort involving multiple international partners, including the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

The Arctic Weather Satellite will provide 100 percent global coverage at an altitude of 600 km and a mass of 120 kg. Its orbital period will be 97 minutes.

OHB Sweden is the prime contractor for the Arctic Weather Satellite mission, providing the satellite platform and system integration.

The consortium also includes Omnisys Sweden as the prime contractor for the microwave radiometer and Thales Alenia Space as the prime contractor for the ground segment. The industrial team comprises 31 companies, including 14 SMEs from 12 ESA member countries. The contract to manufacture the satellite, worth more than 32 million euros, was signed just 36 months ago.

The mission is scheduled to be launched on 10 July using a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from the Vandenberg launch pad in California, USA. The projected duration of the mission in orbit is at least 5 years.

Efforts towards climate change

 According to ESA data, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. Over the last 40 years, sea ice has shrunk by 40 percent. It is causing changes in the global climate system and affecting weather worldwide.

Melting ice, changing temperatures, and weather patterns require constant monitoring. Changes in this region could lead to drastic consequences for the entire world. For example, melting Arctic ice is causing global sea levels to rise, threatening coastal areas. The ESA satellite will collect real-time data on temperature, humidity, and ice cover, which will help scientists better understand and predict global weather events. It, in turn, will enable the development of more effective climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

ESA to launch Arctic weather satellite
The Arctic Weather Satellite (AWS) weighs 125 kilograms and is 5.3 metres-long with its wings deployed. Credit: ESA

 Why existing meteorological satellites are not enough?

Today, satellites in both geostationary and polar orbit provide a wealth of information for weather forecasting. However, it’s not enough for scientists to understand the weather over the Arctic.

The European geostationary Meteosat satellites, located 36,000 kilometers above the equator, transmit images every 15 minutes over the entire Earth and every five minutes over Europe. They have no visibility at higher latitudes, closer to the poles and, therefore, cannot be used for weather forecasting in the Arctic.

Although MetOp satellites return data over the poles as they circle the Earth from pole to pole in a lower orbit, they take up to 24 hours to reach global coverage.

The Arctic Weather Satellite mission will complement MetOp and its counterpart, the US NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System, by providing global measurements of atmospheric temperature and humidity with frequent revisits. This will improve weather forecasts, especially in the Arctic, which has so far lacked the data needed for short-term forecasts.

 Conclusion

The Arctic Weather Satellite mission from the European Space Agency is an example of advanced technology and international cooperation in climate research.

We look forward to the discoveries and results that Arctic Weather Satellite will bring in the future.

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