Brussels, 23 Oct 2003
The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded contracts to companies in the UK, France and Germany to build Aeolus, the first ever satellite to study the Earth's wind patterns from space.
Due to be launched on a three year mission in 2007, Aeolus will be built by EADS Astrium UK, the same company that designed it. Meanwhile, EADS Astrium France will build the on board atmospheric laser Doppler instrument (ALADIN), while EADS Astrium Germany will provide the satellite's electrical subsystems.
Currently, forecasters rely on wind data from weather balloons, aircraft and ground based radars. Consequently, there are huge gaps in wind profiling over oceans and tropical regions. 'Direct measurements of wind over the oceans and the tropics could give us the next breakthrough in improving our hurricane and typhoon forecasts,' explained Martin Jones, head of space programmes at the UK's Meteorological Office.
The ALADIN instrument is known as a lidar (laser detection and radar). It works by firing laser pulses towards the Earth, then measuring the Doppler shift of the return signal to calculate the effect the winds at different altitudes. From Aeolus' Sun synchronous orbit at an altitude of 400 kilometres, ALADIN will be able to provide data on a global basis, and its measurements will be equivalent to launching a weather balloon every 28 seconds for three years.
ESA's director of Earth observation programmes, Jose Achache, said; 'The wind lidar mission has been studied for around 20 years now, but technology was not yet matured enough for an implementation. Finally Europe has developed the demanding technology and thus can go ahead with the full scale satellite programme.'
The Aeolus mission is expected to cost around 300 million euro over approximately eight years. If it is successful, a series of Aeolus type spacecraft could be launched for use in routine weather forecasting.
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