On a scorching afternoon last week, Europe’s long-awaited METEOSAT Third Generation Imager-1 (MTG-I1) satellite settled into a Thales Alenia Space clean room teeming with journalists eager to see the massive craft up close. spatial. The scene was eerily reminiscent of the media crowd attending the Cannes Film Festival in France which takes place a few miles from here.
Although work on the spacecraft is largely complete, at least half a dozen workers were busy fine-tuning the satellite which, exceptionally, will have to be transported to its launch site in French Guiana by boat, where its launch is planned by Arianespace at the end of November. Due to the war in Ukraine, the Russian-built Antonov cargo planes that would normally carry such a large payload to the South American launch site are no longer available.
Yet once in orbit, from its geostationary vantage point some 36,000 km above Earth, it will scan the entire Earth’s disk to monitor and forecast the weather. In the process, it will image our planet in 16 wavelength bands ranging from ultraviolet to long-wave infrared.
The onboard imagers will give us data every two and a half minutes over the European region and every ten minutes over the African region, Simonetta Cheli, director of Earth observation programs at the European Space Agency, told me ( ESA).
It can zoom in to provide images of selected regions, which is essential for issuing timely warnings relevant to air traffic safety, notes the ESA.
Part of a next generation of six new satellites to be launched over the next few years, the complete MTG system will last for more than 20 years. But the massive size of the system’s first component – the MTG-I1 satellite which weighs nearly 4 tonnes when fully fueled for launch – is comparable to a large Ford-250 pickup truck. And you only really appreciate its size at floor level inside the clean room.
The satellite will be able to scan the interior of cumulus clouds and determine their composition and direction, which can then be combined with wind direction in an integrated way, Cheli explains. It’s important because you want to use all of this information in a combined and integrated way to have better weather forecasts, advance weather forecasts and nowcasts, she says.
Nowcasting is better and faster near real-time weather forecasting, Cheli says. And that’s essential for daily forecasts of extreme weather events that can impact everyone, she says.
And if at an outdoor wedding in Normandy, how much time would the “nowcast” give the bride to move the ceremony indoors?
You’ll save 10 to 15 minutes, Hervé Roquet, head of research and development at Météo-France, told me. That may be enough to move a crowd of guests indoors to avoid a more extreme event, like a large convective system, he says.
And could the high local humidity on the French Riviera this summer be due to climate change?
Pug says yes.
Once the temperature is higher, the atmosphere can hold more moisture, so humidity and temperature are directly related, Roquet explains. Higher temperatures add the possibility of higher humidity, he says.
How will this satellite help solve the problems of climate change?
It will provide observations to verify that our climate predictions are coming true, explains Roquet. Until now, climate predictions have been just predictions that cannot be verified, he says. With this new satellite, we will have more confidence in our predictions, notes Roquet.
The satellite will also provide meteorologists with data that can help mitigate air traffic disruptions from volcanic eruptions, such as those of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
The satellite will have the ability to pick up aerosols and particles in its data, Paul Blythe, ESA’s MTG program manager, told me. If we had had it during the 2010 eruption, there would have been no global ban on air travel, he says.
“We will be able to tell where the danger zones are,” Blythe said. “These are the areas that the plane should avoid.”
The satellite will also provide pilots hiking across the North Atlantic with a better route. Once underway, Roguet says that within minutes pilots can receive real-time SIGMET messages about newly detected lightning cells.
This will be made possible by a new Lightning Imager on the spacecraft that will continuously monitor over 80% of the Earth’s disk for relatively weak lightning events that are detectable even in direct sunlight. Four optical detector arrays with a 1 millisecond sampling rate will be able to detect “wink” type lightning signals that last as little as 6 milliseconds.
This next generation of satellites should also provide meteorologists with data for more accurate forecasts. This, in turn, will help European leaders make better decisions about energy use throughout the year.
And after decades of Earth observations, it’s debatable whether what we’ve learned about our own planet could help us better observe other planets in our own solar system. Or if observations of Venus and Mars, for example, could give us new information about the climate here on Earth.
There is a synergy in terms of industrial activities and technological development between science missions and Earth observation missions, Cheli explains.
As Cristian Bank, director of program preparation and development at the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), told me, the link is through the chemical and physical models used to understand weather phenomena. That’s because the underlying physics and chemistry are the same, he says.
“The better we understand our own atmosphere and the chemical and physical interaction between constituents, the better we understand the atmospheres of other planets,” Bank said.